An Evening Without Monty Python
nytheatre.com review by Ross Chappell
October 6, 2009
When I was eight years old, I was crushed that I missed a live show in which someone got a pie in the face. It's taken some 25 years of theatre-going to make it happen, but An Evening Without Monty Python has finally rewarded my patience... in spades! This Monty Python tribute show, created by Eric Idle and celebrating Python's 40th anniversary, is for anyone who liked Spamalot and even some that didn't. Per usual with a show of this nature, fans of the original TV series will get the most out of the production, owing mostly to occasional inside jokes and the anticipation of favorite skits or songs as they suddenly pop up (everything from The Ministry of Silly Walks to The Philosopher's Drinking song is on display). However, due to the careful organization of this montage, the quality of the original material and its re-working, and the comedic abilities of a fine group of actors, everyone who goes to see this show should find themselves thoroughly entertained. It's just a shame that it's such a limited run.
It's always a joy to see accomplished, well-known actors appear in more off-beat comedic projects such as this one and rise to the occasion by genuinely working for the audience. This cast performs well together, and their timing is impressive, but not surprising given their pedigrees (Frasier, Firefly, Spamalot, Whose Line..., and so on). However, where their performances could stop at simply demonstrating the talent that got them this far, they go the distance necessary to offer the audience something truly engaging and enjoyable. I found myself shaking my head in disbelief as I laughed, a very good sign for these types of comedic performances. They all offer characterizations that are spot-on, and in addition, each performer brings something essential to making the show work. Jim Piddock's raised eyebrow and wonderfully droll demeanor offer the "Is this really happening?" response. Jeff Davis's exuberance infuses his scenes with improv-like energy. Jane Leeves's bits consist mostly of transitions, but even in those moments she transforms what could be perfunctory segues into scenes of laugh-out-loud comedy, and her vocal work is varied and excellent. Rick Holmes (a Spamalot alum) displays some amazing physicality and his rambling tirade on wanting to avoid obnoxious tourist-filled destinations is astounding. I doubt I could even read it at that pace, and he performs it (rather than reciting it) with an impossibly fluid delivery while an exasperated Leeves chases him through the audience. I half think he's still going on about it as he's on his way home. Then there's Alan Tudyk. Is there anything this man can't do? Yes, he's another Spamalot alum, but the precision, variety, and humility he offers here demonstrate why he's one of the better actors working today, comic or otherwise. He displays exceptional dedication by being fully engaged at every turn, as if it were a run of five months rather than five nights.
Eric Idle and BT McNicholl co-direct, and they have done an outstanding job. The show's pace is brisk, but not rushed. In fact, they seem to have found a perfect balance because several of the scenes are almost leisurely in their delivery but never once seem to drag, an impressive feat to say the least. The design elements are effective but unobtrusive, also an impressive feat. Jen Schriever's lighting and Dennis Moody's sound design support a varied and often physical show without ever getting in the way. Ann Closs-Farley's costumes span the range of ridiculous to gorgeous and are also well matched to the show, especially given the number of quick changes that are required.
It should surprise no one that WestBeth Entertainment is responsible for bringing us this show. They have consistently produced deceptively intelligent comedy for years, and, in addition to shows such as Spamalot, have given us three of my Top 5 stand-up comedy shows from the last decade (Eddie Izzard, Billy Connolly, and Lewis Black). Keep up the good work!
Listed as "A paeanastic laudatory exaltation of the works of John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin," this show is worthy of Idle and the other original Monty Python cast of loons. It reminds me why I enjoyed Monty Python's Flying Circus so much when it aired in America on PBS in the '70s and '80s. What might seem sophomoric to the casual observer offers so much more to anyone willing to give it a longer viewing. Like Saturday Night Live in its early years, and most any election year since, there's some legitimate commentary on society and the human condition amidst the show's apparent insanity. An Evening Without Monty Python doesn't demonstrate its brilliance in spite of the silliness, it does so in part because of it. The motto seems to be "Life is too serious to be taken seriously." It somehow simultaneously encourages us to take life less seriously and to take what really matters to us even more seriously. And it's FUN. Remember fun? If you've forgotten, go see this show. You'll leave having been reminded why we go see live comedy in the first place.