Knights that say 'Ni' conquer Broadway critics with musical version of Python

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The Independent Culture

It is already being tipped for best musical at America's main theatre awards and a long queue snakes around the block in New York in the hope of cancellations.

It is already being tipped for best musical at America's main theatre awards and a long queue snakes around the block in New York in the hope of cancellations.

Not since 2001, when Bialystock and Bloom rolled on to Broadway in Mel Brooks's mega-hit stage version of The Producers , has the American stage, as the trade magazine Variety put it, "bristled with such anticipation of a major hit".

But far from being an all-American production, the musical selling $500,000 (£265,000) worth of tickets a day is a truly British comedy. Spamalot , the musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail , is taking the Big Apple by storm.

All the Pythons gave their blessing to the new version, but it is Eric Idle who has written the book and the lyrics and driven through the project that he describes as "a new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture". None of the team appears, though John Cleese does provide the voice of God.

Like the film, the musical tells the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table and their quest for the Holy Grail. It has a chorus line of dancing knights, killer rabbits, flatulent Frenchmen and one legless knight, all marshalled by the director Mike Nichols, who is better known for films including The Graduate and Catch-22 .

And, while a cast headed by David Hyde Pierce, formerly known as Dr Niles Crane in Frasier , and Tim Curry, star of The Rocky Horror Picture Show , can never hope to replace memories of Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Idle himself, the critics have decreed it is a rip-roaring hoot of a night out.

Nichols "has Spamalot working with a glossy grandeur, without a single fall from comic grace," according to Clive Barnes in the New York Post .

British critics were a tad more reserved. Benedict Nightingale in The Times said it was certainly not another Producers . "Its lunacies haven't the satiric or narrative focus. But an amusingly scattershot debunking of romance, war, history, England, existence, rabbits and goblets - yes, Spamalot is all that. Let's raise a dead parrot to its success in New York and, one day, London."

British fans would no doubt be eager to sing along to "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" - imported from The Life of Brian - and laugh anew at the Knights who say "Ni". There are currently no definite plans for a tour or other productions, but British producers and theatre owners are believed to be already in New York checking out the show for a transfer to London.

Spamalot opened at the Shubert Theatre with an advance of $20m (£10.5m). It sold $2mthe day after the first night and is continuing to sell more than $500,000 a day. Enough to make a knight say "Ekki-Ekki- Ekki-Ekki-Ptang, Zoom-boing z'nourwringmm," instead of "Ni".

WHAT THE REVIEWERS SAY

John Lahr, The New Yorker

"The English... will recognise... the show's debt to British pantomime. The Americans will recognise... their own musical tradition. But audience members would have to be from Mars not to recognise ... a smash hit."

Clive Barnes,New York Post

"Bloody fantastic, gorgeously silly... Only the very dead could hold back their laughter... Steal a ticket, even if you have to get a killer rabbit to help."

David Rooney, Variety

"Eric Idle and co-composer John De Prez deliver a rowdy entertainment that remains sufficiently faithful to its source, Monty Python and the Holy Grail, to satisfy nostalgic fans, while broadening the humour to cast a wider net among musical theatregoers."

Benedict Nightingale, The Times

"As you would expect, it's... manic going on maniac. As you might not expect, it's greatly... preoccupied with Broadway itself: Arthur's final God-given task is to transpose his tale in glittering style to the Great White Way itself."

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