'Spamalot' Pokes Fun At Broadway

Eric Idle And His Star Cast Talk To <B>Charlie Rose</B>

Come to New York City today and you might find people roaming the streets discussing flying cows and killer rabbits, and singing songs about how they're not dead yet.

Don't be alarmed. They're not crazy. They've just seen "Spamalot," a musical that started out 30 years ago as a silly, small-budget British film called "Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

It was a wacky take on the legend of King Arthur by the irreverent British comedy troupe Monty Python.

Now, a former Python has brought the Holy Grail to Broadway, because he believes it's "a good time for silly." reports.

Former Python Eric Idle, 62, wrote "Spamalot," his first Broadway musical. The show has been sold out for months, and many who are buying the tickets at more than $100 a pop would usually never think of seeing a Broadway show.

"That audience is not going to the theater, that rock 'n' roll audience. My dream, and I think we started it, is to bring those people back into the theater," says Idle. "Because the theater's become tedious and boring and dull."

Idle challenges Broadway conventions with a parody of the ballads of Andrew Lloyd Webber, from musicals like "Phantom of the Opera." Why?

"Because Andrew [Lloyd Webber] has occupied … he has been about the musical for the last 25 years," says Idle. "He's taken the comedy out of it. I think if you can laugh, have a song, laugh, have a song, that's the most agreeable form of entertainment you can have in the theater."

And audiences seem to agree. But many who are flocking to "Spamalot" are drawn by the familiar name above the show's title: Monty Python.

"They tried to persuade me to put Eric Idle's 'Spamalot' up. They really did," says Idle. And I said, 'No, it must be Monty Python's. That's the whole point of it all."

Monty Python was a British comedy troupe that achieved cult status in the '70s with its TV show, "Monty Python's Flying Circus."

"It had, some say, an element of sophistication, at the same time it had slapstick, at the same time it had irreverence," says Rose. "It took comedy to another place."

"I think it's intelligent men being stupid," says Idle, laughing.

The Pythons also made movies, notably "The Life of Brian," typical of their brand of humor: beyond irreverent. Then, there was "Monty Python and the Holy Grail," the Python's signature film, and the basis for "Spamalot."

The movie was pure Python and poked fun at historic events like the Great Plague. "I understood that it would make a good Broadway musical," says Idle. "People say, 'I'm not dead yet.' That's clearly a cue for a song."

There are scenes in "Spamalot" that Python fans will recognize from the movie "We always knew we'd bring the Python fans in. They were gonna come anyway. That's a given. But you can't base a show on that," says Idle.

How much of what he has written for the play comes right from the movie? "Well, surprisingly less than you'd think," says Idle. "In order for a thing to remain the same, you have to change something completely when you put it on stage."

The most obvious change is that none of the original Pythons perform in "Spamalot." But Idle still needed to get their permission to turn "The Holy Grail" into a musical.

"I wasn't sure I'd get approval," says Idle. "It was the only thing that put me off doing it, was the fact that I had to approach them and get all their permissions."

Why call it "Spamalot"?

"I think the Pythons were keen that we didn't [use] the Holy Grail, so that it didn't just look like, so that it was something different. It stood aside," says Idle. "In the original movie, there's a line from the original song, 'I eat -- we eat ham and jam and spam a lot.'"

Idle had a title and a script, but he needed a director. So he called an old friend, Academy and Tony-Award winner Mike Nichols, who eventually agreed to direct "Spamalot" after seeing some of the early material.

"I said, 'Please go away. I don't want to do another musical,'" Nichols said at first. But after seeing some early material, Nichols said, "I thought there's no way I cannot do this because it's brilliant and it's funny, and I love – I've been friends with Eric [Idle] for 30 years now."