And that, my liege, is how we know the Earth to be banana-shaped’

By By Christie Franke

By Christie Franke

“Who goes there?”

“It is I, Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, from the castle of Camelot. King of the Britons, defeater of the Saxons, sovereign of all England!”

“Pull the other one!”

So begins “Monty Python and the Holy Grail” — likely the best-known work by the Monty Python comedy troupe, whose infamous brand of humor revolutionized the comedy world as drastically as the Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper revolutionized rock music. The movie is so notable that quotes lifted from its two hours of absurdity are instantly recognizable across almost all age/gender/race demographics. The film is a veritable icon of the pop-culture mainstream.

What child didn’t grow up reciting lines such as “Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries” or “I’m not dead yet?”

Sons of silly persons!

The Monty Pythons formed in 1964. The group consists of Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. Of the six, three were Cambridge men (Cleese, Chapman, and Idle), two hailed from Oxford (Palin and Jones) and one was American (Gilliam).

At Cambridge, there existed an acting club called Footlights to which Cleese, Chapman and Idle all belonged. After graduating, Cleese and Idle joined forces with Palin on an early British predecessor to The Colbert Report. Shortly after that endeavor, Cleese and Chapman were offered a show together by the BBC; however, not wanting to do a two-man show, the pair called Palin, who brought three friends to the project — Idle, Jones and Gilliam — and thus, Monty Python was born.

Knights of the Round Table

“Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” the troupe’s first feature-length film, premiered in 1975, and still boasts as robust a following today as it did more than 30 years ago. The film absolutely lampoons the life of King Arthur and his quest for the Holy Grail, and does it with such panache that the audience, if it appreciates deadpan British comedy, is left rolling on the floor.

The movie is replete with witch-hunts, mad quests, diabolical nun-filled castles and killer bunnies. Naturally, with its massive following and hilarious material, it only stands to reason that the theater industry would eventually be smart enough to make a musical out of “The Holy Grail.”

Fortunately, the theater industry WAS smart enough.

Ham and Jam and “Spamalot”

“Spamalot” — the movie’s theatrical equivalent — premiered in London in 2005 and was a smashing success.

“Spamalot: A new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture Monty Python and the Holy Grail” is the play’s tagline, and the statement holds true: this musical is very lovingly ripped off. So lovingly, in fact, that the musical was written by veteran Python Eric Idle. (And nothing assures that a musical will hold true to the comedic integrity and hilarious laughs boasted in the original quite like having one of the original comedians assisting in the writing process.)

So, imagine all of the “Holy Grail” sketches you love set to music, and you’ve got “Spamalot.” The title is taken from a line in the original movie’s Camelot song: “We dine well here in Camelot/ We eat ham and jam and spam a lot.”

At heart, “Holy Grail” is a straight-faced jab at the Middle Ages (the medieval symbol for cowardice? A knight running from a white rabbit [the very monster destroyed via Holy Hand-Grenade]) and “Spamalot” takes the movie’s ribald, satirical spirit while adding a number of musical…numbers. And showgirls. And French people.

Granted, “Spamalot” also adds characters and situations not present or fleshed out in its film iteration — the Lady in the Lake only gets a passing mention in the movie, when Arthur talks to the anarcho-syndicalist communists, yet she’s present in the musical.

Translating a movie into a musical can be compared to translating a book into a movie: not everything fits, and some things have to be changed; however, the results can be superb — “Spamalot” won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2005.

Considering the history and expectations behind its original, that’s not bad at all.

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