Spamalot: Then and Now

You wouldn’t think going to a production of Spamalot would be the fodder for much in the way of a blog post, but guess what?

You’d be wrong.

Denisa and I first went to Spamalot back when it was on Broadway in 2006. It had just won the Tony for Best Musical, and we both had a great time. (Except for the French taunting scene, which amused Denisa far less than it amused me.) My memories of the show are that it was very lively and fast paced and funny from start to finish.

Last night, we saw Spamalot for the second time, driving up to Orono to catch the touring production. It was a solid performance, though of course not nearly as good as the Broadway production that lives now in my memory. It’s an unfair comparison to make, but very hard to get around it. Still, it was funny and a great way to spend an evening.

Except for one scene.

It wasn’t the French taunting scene this time. No, in this instance, it was the “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway” number:

It’s all about how, to really succeed on Broadway, you need Jews. And when I saw it on Broadway in 2006, I thought it was hilarious. A great in-joke that went over very well with the audience. The ensuing music and dance number, with all the Jewish references, was fantastic.

Last night in Orono, Maine, thirteen years later? I found the whole number quite painful to watch. Not because it was poorly done. The choreography and acting was no different than what I’d seen in 2006 (minus some simple matters of the skill of the dancers and actors), but the content itself was rough.

For one thing, I was in Orono, Maine, where the Jewish population isn’t exactly overwhelming, so it felt much less like I was laughing along with a joke and much more like I was laughing at a particular group of people. But much more significantly, when I saw it in 2006, anti-Semitism seemed like such an outdated mindset. Something only a real imbecile would espouse. Perhaps that was just my naïveté, but certainly the amount of public anti-Semitism in America has gone through the roof in the intervening years.

And how depressing is it to think of that through the entire number? I almost felt like they should have just cut the entire scene, if it were possible. Judging from the laughs (or, rather, the stark absence of them in comparison to the rest of the show), I don’t think I was alone in my feelings. Which then makes me wonder if the scene was all that funny in the first place, back in 2006.

In any case, overall we had a great time, and it provided plenty of conversation fodder for the drive home. What do you all think about it?


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