This 25-track, 52-minute disc preserves the just-barely songs -- with lyrics by Eric Idle, music by Idle and John Du Prez -- that are in no way the highlights of the just-barely musical that opened on Broadway to strong reviews and sell-out houses in March. But the show's real stars are the classic lines and routines from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, on which Spamalot is based, and they are mostly absent from the recording. Without these primary laugh-getters -- the only parts of the show that were developed with any discernible care and, at that, 30 years ago -- this turns out to be the most dire recording of a new musical in recent memory.
Most of the material is predictable and actively unfunny: "I'm Not Dead Yet" spoils one of the film's classic, hilarious moments; a parody of Andrew Lloyd Webber power ballads ("The Song That Goes Like This") has no teeth and less melody; and two other numbers ("Camelot," folded into "Knights of the Round Table," and "His Name Is Lancelot") sound so cheesy and Vegasy that they could have been lifted from last season's The Boy From Oz. To be fair, a brief pre-show track titled "Tuning," complete with coughing and baton tapping, is mildly amusing, as is the Jewish-themed "You Won't Succeed on Broadway." Larry Hochman's orchestrations and Todd Ellison's musical direction and vocal arrangements deserve credit for making these songs as relatively listenable as they are, but one can only wonder what prevented music arranger Glen Kelly from working the same magic here that he so gloriously effected on the score of The Producers.
Many listeners will be predisposed to love the cast, which includes such comic heavyweights as Tim Curry (King Arthur), Hank Azaria (Sir Lancelot and a series of ensemble roles), and David Hyde Pierce (Sir Robin), but their phoned-in performances don't make it easy to do so. These stars are recorded alongside musical theater stalwarts who, unsurprisingly, come off much better: Christian Borle turns in the show's only funny performance as a scene-setting historian, and Michael McGrath scores the show's sole memorable song, "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life" (interpolated from another Monty Python film, Life of Brian).
The biggest casualty of both the show and the recording is Sara Ramirez, a superb singer-comedienne who's wasted in the role of The Lady of the Lake; she's stuck channeling Céline Dion, Liza Minnelli, Sarah Brightman, and other distinctive performers in playing a role that's not even a role. Listening to her flail against these makeshift songs and this non-character only makes me wish anew that Ramirez had been recorded in her last Broadway outing, A Class Act (2001), instead. Her scorching duet in that show with director-star Lonny Price -- "Don't Do It Again," a decades-old Edward Kleban spec song for a musicalization of The Heartbreak Kid -- was fresher and funnier than anything she or anyone else gets to do in Spamalot.