Not dead yet: critics confirm Python's Broadway success

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It has been likened to a manic British panto on Broadway and even the toughest of New York critics has given it a glittering write-up.

The success of the Monty Python musical, Spamalot, was confirmed yesterday after it was awarded four Outer Critics Circle Awards in the US, from journalists judging New York theatre. The awards included the major prize of best Broadway musical.

Eric Idle's show, based on the 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, also drew awards for the director, Mike Nichols, whose films include The Graduate and Catch-22, the actress Sara Ramirez and the costume designer Tim Hatley.

Spamalot proved an instant hit on Broadway when it opened in March, setting box-office records and attracting sell-out audiences. Billed as the "biggest musical since 937AD", it retells the story of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, whose quest for the Holy Grail includes a chorus line of dancing knights, killer rabbits, flatulent Frenchmen and a legless knight, as well as the voice of God, supplied by John Cleese, who starred in the original film.

The cast is led by David Hyde Pierce, formerly known as Dr Niles Crane from the television comedy, Frasier, and Tim Curry, who played the charismatic lead in the cult musical, The Rocky Horror Picture Show. The musical score is written by John DuPrez.

Premiering at the Shubert Theatre with an advance of $20m (£10.5m), it sold $2m in tickets the day after the first night and is continuing to sell more than $500,000 a day. Most of the prominent seats in the house sell for more than $100, with some at $250.

The musical has also been heavily merchandised, with a pair of "killer rabbit" slippers selling at $40. A consignment of 1,000 pairs arrived in time for opening night. Other popular souvenirs include a "killer rabbit" puppet and commemorative cans of Spamalot spam, as well as T-shirts with Pythonesque slogans, including the top-selling "I'm not dead yet ..."

John Lahr, a critic on The New Yorker, wrote: "The English will recognise - in the show's relentless punning, its sing-along, its summoning on stage of a 'peasant' from the audience - the show's debt to British pantomime. The Americans will recognise - in the nods to Bob Fosse, Stephen Sondheim, and the arid slickness of romantic Broadway duets , their own musical tradition. But audience members would have to be from Mars not to recognise ... a smash hit." Clive Barnes, of the New York Post, called it: "Bloody fantastic, gorgeously silly."

New York theatre-goers, known to be keen Anglophiles, fell in love with the musical, and the venue regularly has long queues snaking around the block in the hope of cancellations.

The surviving Python cast, which includes Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones, Terry Gilliam and Idle, are said to have approved of the production, although Idle was the only Python with direct input.

He wrote the lyrics and describes the production in its title heading as "Monty Python's Spamalot: A new musical lovingly ripped off from the motion picture, Monty Python and the Holy Grail."

The musical has also had 12 nominations for the Drama Desk Awards, to be presented on 22 May, which are often considered an indicator of the prestigious Tony awards in June.

There are no plans for a tour or other productions, but British producers and theatre-owners are believed to be in New York at the show, discussing a possible transfer to London.

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