“Monty Python’s Spamalot” in Vegas

Monty Python’s Spamalot
Wynn Hotel and Casino, Las Vegas



The incredibly classy Wynn Hotel has one dynamic longtime tenant, the water-themed and breathtakingly delicious Franco Dragone-helmed Cirque du Soleil clone Le Reve, which debuted at the Wynn a few weeks after the hotel opened its doors in the spring of 2005. It wasn’t long after that auspicious premiere that Steve Wynn’s team announced the exclusive opening of the Broadway Tony-winning hit musical Avenue Q, set to play in an adjacent space to Le Reve sans the 68½-foot pool of water where 2,087 patrons sit spellbound nightly. For some reason, Wynn’s midas touch failed this time and the production never really took off, probably because there wasn’t a line of scantily clad nubile chorusgirls to distract the sensory-heightened Vegas crowd.


But like the running phrase echoed by almost every character in Avenue Q’s successor, the Wynn’s second space was not quite dead yet. The Broadway Theatre was quickly renamed the Grail Theatre last March and Monty Python’s Spamalot, another Tony (and Grammy) winner, took the room by storm. Eric Idle’s hugely popular slapstick musical comedy has proven to be a stroke of marketing genius for the hotel and a boon for the many tourists visiting Vegas in these trendy days heralding the rampant evolution of the Strip—people who presumably would never think of sitting through an evening with Wayne Newton no matter how much they were offered to drink. Talk about always looking “on the bright side of life,” eh?

Not only are there plenty of gorgeous showgirls hanging on the arm of klutzy King Arthur and his noble court of comedic buffoons in Spamalot, there are enough familiar Pythonian references for the world’s multitudes of rabid Flying Circus fans to make this wonderfully goofy musical stay on at the Wynn just about forever. The few uninitiated folks under 35 who never watch cable or grew up with parents intent on performing old Python routines in their living rooms might be a tad bewildered when the giggles from the audience come before the gag ends. The mere appearance of a guy sporting ram horns provokes instant hilarity and the first declaration of the word “Ni” is enough to send many in attendance into wild peels of laughter. Punchlines in Spamalot are almost unnecessary with this crowd, especially patrons hoisting huge “jewel”-encrusted tankards of beer available in the lobby.


Under the direction of none other than Mike Nichols, with inventively harebrained choreography by Drowsy Chaperone’s Casey Nickolaw, a delightfully silly book and lyrics by Idle, and music by John Du Prez and Idle, Spamalot is simply a hoot. Of course, it’s based on the cult favorite feature film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a broadly irreverent retelling of the legend of Arthur and his illustrious Knights of the Round Table, chronicling the outrageously armored and wigged boys’ Keystone Cop-esque search for… well, you know what. The musical pays quintessential homage to the movie, complete with intentionally cardboard-y sets and homemade-looking props made to seem as though they were lifted directly from decorations created for a high school homecoming dance in Podunk, Iowa. All the requisite Pythonian paraphernalia is here, from the fluffy red-eyed Jekyll and Hyde-bred rabbit to flatulent taunting Frenchmen to characters calling for the locals to bring out their dead. Why, one guy even gets to carry a rubber joke store chicken; how cool is that.

Although Arthur is usually played at the Wynn by John Hurley, Seinfeld’s J. Peterman was on hiatus when I saw Spamalot (hosting Family Feud must be so demanding), but Randal Keith was a standout in the role created in New York by Tim Curry. As Sir Robin (originated by David Hyde Pierce and now being performed in New York by Clay Aikens, who should be playing Prince Herbert), Harry Bouvy is hilarious, particularly in the showstopping Al Jolson-inspired “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway [If You Don’t Have a Jew],” which concludes with a dead-on line of willing Knights doing the bottle dance from Fiddler on the Roof. Steven Stafford steals the show as the über-gay Prince Herbert, he with the great deadpanned dispensation of singing the gooey love ballad “Where Are You?” before he finds romance with the “turned” Sir Lancelot (J. Anthony Crane, also a world-class successor to Hank Azaria), and Justin Brill, so good as Pepper in Vegas’ Mamma Mia! at Mandalay Bay, wins one again as Arthur’s poor overloaded and adoring manservant Patsy.

Spamalot has also initiated a cool new concept, the Very Important Person Package: For an extra few bucks that could be dropped at the crap tables in about five minutes anyway, VIPP ticketholders are given a few hearty swallows of brewski served in that aforementioned souvenir tankard and a 45-minute backstage tour led by an eager castmember sure to have a sequin or two hanging around somewhere. This uniquely privileged civilian exploration through the prop storage, alongside the racks of costumes and across the highest catwalks, is sure to promote a discussion about which way the toes of God face when the show’s gigantic “He” descends from the riggings to talk to Arthur and the boys (voiced by original Python John Cleese). I ask you, who could pass up getting a photo taken with an authentic killer rabbit puppet or waving from inside a giant can of Spam? Your family album will never be the same.

Monty Python’s Spamalot plays indefinitely at the Wynn Hotel and Casino, 3131 Las Vegas Blvd. South, Las Vegas; for tickets, call 877.323.SHOW. For more information, visit www.montypythonsspamalot.com

TRAVIS MICHAEL HOLDER teaches acting and theatre/film history at the New York Film Academy’s west coast campus at Universal Studios. He has been writing about LA theatre since 1987, including 12 years for BackStage, a 23-year tenure as Theatre Editor for Entertainment Today, and currently for ArtsInLA.com. As an actor, he received the Los Angeles Drama Critics Circle Best Actor Award as Kenneth Halliwell in the west coast premiere of Nasty Little Secrets at Theatre/Theater and he has also been honored with a Drama-Logue Award as Lennie in Of Mice and Men at the Egyptian Arena, four Maddy Awards, a ReviewPlays.com Award, both NAACP and GLAAD Award nominations, and six acting nominations from LA Weekly. Regionally, he won the Inland Theatre League Award as Ken Talley in Fifth of July; three awards for his direction and performance as Dr. Dysart in Equus; was up for Washington, DC’s Helen Hayes honors as Oscar Wilde in the world premiere of Oscar & Speranza; toured as Amos “Mr. Cellophane” Hart in Chicago; and he has traveled three times to New Orleans for the annual Tennessee Williams Literary Festival, opening the fest in 2003 as Williams himself in Lament for the Moths and since returning to appear in An Ode to Tennessee and opposite Karen Kondazian as A Witch and a Bitch. Never one to suffer from typecasting, Travis’ most recent LA performance, as Rodney in The Katrina Comedy Fest, netted the cast a Best Ensemble Sage Award from ArtsInLA. He has also been seen as Wynchell in the world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder and Frank in Charles Mee’s Summertime at The Boston Court Performing Arts Center, Giuseppe “The Florist” Givola in Brecht’s The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui for Classical Theatre Lab, Ftatateeta in Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra at the Lillian, Cheswick in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at the Rubicon in Ventura, Pete Dye in the world premiere of Stranger at the Bootleg (LA Weekly Award nomination), Shelly Levene in Glengarry Glen Ross at the Egyptian Arena, the Witch of Capri in Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore at the Fountain, and Dr. Van Helsing in The House of Besarab at the Hollywood American Legion Theatre. As a writer, he has also been a frequent contributor to several national magazines and five of his plays have been produced in LA. His first, Surprise Surprise, for which he wrote the screenplay with director Jerry Turner, became a feature film with Travis playing opposite John Brotherton, Luke Eberl, Deborah Shelton and Mary Jo Catlett. His first novel, Waiting for Walk, was completed in 2005, put in a desk drawer, and the ever-slothful, ever-deluded, ever-entitled Travis can’t figure out why no one has magically found it yet and published the goddam thing. www.travismichaelholder.com