Got Grail? Monty Python and the Broadway Stage

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Money matters. In Act 2 of Spamalot, Eric Idle's Broadway musical based on the 1975 cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the show's star, Tim Curry, as King Arthur, comments that the characters are running around in a “dark and very expensive forest.” The joke, it turns out, is entirely on us. Monty Python and the Holy Grail was an inexpensive independent film, costing $250,000 to make, a bargain compared to the same year's The Rocky Horror Picture Show ($1,200,000) and Python's own 1979 Life of Brian ($4,000,000). From its release, Holy Grail ran continuously in many theatres, and large numbers of people could afford the price of a ticket; it still circulates widely in relatively inexpensive DVD and VHS editions. Fast-forward thirty years to March of 2005. Production costs for Spamalot, Eric Idle's Broadway musical “lovingly ripped off” from the film, top $14 million (not atypical start-up costs these days on Broadway). Playing in a single theatre that seats only about 1,600, the show commands ticket prices that begin around $100 and can cost $350 and up. According to the Wall Street Journal,Spamalot is setting the pace for the spiraling costs of Broadway entertainment. Many fewer people will see the musical than the film, and those who can will tend to be more affluent; Spamalot's target audience is Holy Grail's first audience “all grown up,” prosperous, middle-aged Monty Python fans (like the authors of this article). In their youth, Holy Grail denied this audience the pleasures of narrative cinema. It made fun of film, relentlessly disturbing the seamless illusion of reality that is the cornerstone of Hollywood cinema, refusing narrative coherence and narrative closure. A parody of the clichés of mass culture, it exposed the political conservatism of the various forms of nostalgia for a medieval past that never was, a past in which strange women lying around in ponds distributing swords could be a basis for a political system. Spamalot, on the other hand, adapts its cinematic original, repackaging the youthful rebellion of the 1975 film and offering the pleasures of nostalgia remarkably free from political consequences.


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