Find Your Grail In ‘Spamalot’
Long live the King! When Monty Python’s Spamalot plays in San Diego this week, it has a new ruler at the theatrical throne when Christopher Gurr plays the lead role as King Arthur. Gurr and his Knights of the Round Table embark on their quest for the Holy Grail and brave flying cows, killer rabbits, and taunting Frenchmen along the way.
One of the original performers in the national tour of the hilarious new musical – and a veteran performer to the principal character – Gurr took a moment just before a performance last week to speak with the San Diego Entertainer to give a little glimpse of what it’s like to reign over one of the silliest musicals to come to town.
Monty Python’s Spamalot is “lovingly ripped off from” the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Like the film, it is a highly irreverent parody of the Arthurian Legend, but it differs from the movie in many ways. In fact, Gurr says you don’t even need to have seen the original Monty Python motion picture to enjoy the stage play.
“The show is all about King Arthur and his pursuit (for the Holy Grail), as all Arthurian stories are,” he explains to virgin Python fans. “But because this is a comedy – and not a romance, and not a tragedy, and not an adventure tale as most Arthurian legends are – he runs into comedic trouble as he goes along the way. And because this is a musical, specifically an American musical comedy, there are tap dancing knights, and showgirls, and Frenchmen to be taunted, and cattle to be flung. It is two hours of solid silly.”
“That’s what you can expect and you need no background for that sort of thing,” he continues. “It’s quite wonderful. You don’t have to study on damn thing to appreciate that.”
Yet at the same time, dedicated Python fans might laugh a bit louder throughout the show. Eric Idle, a member of the Monty Python team and actor in the original movie, wrote the musical’s book and lyrics and collaborated with John Du Prez on the music. He penned several Python surprises, in what Gurr calls a Where’s Waldo of Python material.
“If you are, like myself, a Python fan, you will get a hybridization of the movie, which you know and love,” Gurr explained, adding, “but because Eric Idle is a smart, smart man, he went cherry picKing throughout the entire cannon of Python material. He has cannibalized from everything.
“It’s not just Monty Python and the Holy Grail that a Python fan will see and hear. They will see and hear some of their favorite bits, some times hidden so cleverly that the laugh actually comes from the fact that we’ve tucked it away where no one can see it.”
The stage version throws in a few twists not only for Python fans, but also for Arthur aficionados. In this production, for example, King Arthur actually finds the Grail.
“It’s musical comedy, of course I find it,” Gurr says with a laugh. “Not only do I find it, but there’s a wedding at the end. Those are the rules of musical comedy.”
But some rules are meant to be broken, or at least bent a bit – especially when Monty Python is involved.
For example, Lady of the Lake figures minimally in the movie. For the play, however, not only do you need a love interest just to make the happy ending possible, but you expect to have a leading lady.
“You expect someone to show up in fabulous gowns, sing fabulously and to look amazing. That’s what we have. We have a Lady of the Lake that does it with some regularity throughout the show,” Gurr says.
King Arthur’s first encounter with the Lady of the Lake happens well before the show, when she gives him Excalibur and he becomes King. Spamalot starts with their second meeting.
“Arthur does not even know what his quest is at the beginning,” Gurr says. “He knows that because he is the King, it is his job to gather knights around him and ride through the countryside in order to accomplish something. He is just quite sure what that thing is – until he has a second encounter with the Lady of the Lake. When they are sort of at a loss of what to do, it is the Lady who shows up and tells them what their quest is for the remainder of the play.”
Throughout the hilarious hi-jinks and an array of musical numbers, including a loving ballade, a Vegas showstopper, a cabana number, and even a soft shoe – “We hit the highlights in terms of musical theatre styles,” Gurr says – the show offers a bit of advice.
“I think that even though it’s two big acts of silly, it does in fact have instructions. It’s fairly obvious, because it’s what we scream from the stage the most,” Gurr says, in reference to the popular song “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life” (originally from Monty Python’s Life of Brian).
“Secondary to ‘Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life’ is the song ‘Find Your Grail.’ The Lady of Lake comes out to tell Arthur what he needs to do and that he needs to set his mind, his eye and his heart on his grail and go and find it. It is a metaphorical piece of instruction, but it is what we end the show with also. Everyone is married, we’ve reached all of our happy endings, and the last thing we say to the audience is to go and find your grail,” Gurr says, concluding, “It’s bleeding obvious what piece of advice this show gives.”
Find your Grail, or at least watch Gurr’s King Arthur find his, as Monty Python’s Spamalot performs in San Diego through Sept. 13 at the San Diego Civic Theatre.
Monty Python’s Spamalot
A Broadway/San Diego ~ A Nederlander Presentation
San Diego Civic Theatre, 3rd and B Street (In Downtown San Diego)
Box Office: (619) 570-1100 or Ticketmaster (800) 745-3000