by Robert Smith
An Evening (Without)
New York City
Eric Idle is holding on to his Monty Python legacy with both hands – and thank goodness for that. The British comedy legend has followed up his recent triumph, the Broadway smash Spamalot, with this limited run reworking of legendary Python TV sketches, which work a lot better live than anyone dared imagine.
Basically, all Idle and co-director B.T. McNicholl did was to take some of the funniest Python classics, update them, and hand them to five talented, fresh comic actors. And what a cast it was: the still youthful Jane Leeves, late of “Frazier”; former Spamalot cast members Alan Tudyk and Rick Holmes; Jim Piddock, perhaps best known for his role as the put-upon dog show color commentator in “Best In Show”; and Jeff B. Davis from “Whose Line Is It Anyway.” The result was downright magical, as these gifted performers, armed with the brightest yet silliest sketch comedy ever unleashed on television, hammed it up and ate the scenery and had a marvelous time going wild – taking, on this evening, a shockingly mature audience of Python fanatics right along with them.
The title of the show was quite accurate; not a single Python member (the rest of the cast included John Cleese, Terry Jones, Michael Palin, Terry Gilliam, and the last Graham Chapman) was present, but in truth, they weren’t missed. All five cast members were brilliant, but every show has a breakout star, and in this case, it clearly was Tudyk, who seemed more than a bit at home wiping cream pies off his face, donning a kerchief and becoming a “rat bag,” or complaining about a dead parrot. The most uproarious of his portrayals, however, was his insane candy company owner performance, which bordered on manic. Instead of mimicking Jones’ original performance, Tudyk played the originator of “Cockroach Clusters” and “Ram’s Bladder Cup” chocolates as Louis Nye on methadone, and the results were pure loony genius.
In fact, what made the evening work so superbly was that Idle encouraged his actors to simply create their own characters out of the original Python sketches, and each shined in their own way. Leeves sang silly songs beautifully (including the still-shocking “Never Be Rude To An Arab”); Davis looked quite lovely while peddling albatross; Piddock brought applause as a Cockney Michelangelo; and Holmes still might be babbling, as his annoying travel customer character ran through the audience, complaining of anything and everything seemingly forever.
It’s a pity that this October 10 performance was the last of the scheduled run for this Evening (Without), as it was every bit as funny as Spamalot, and not nearly as expensive a ticket. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Monty Python, with cable television specials and a reunion in England all on the docket. Again, thank goodness; in these serious times, we need all the silly walks we can get.
© 2009 Robert Smith