SEARCH:  
Twitter Facebook RSS Feed
No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Saturday 28th October 2006

Spamalot / Caroline, or Change / Dirty Dancing


According to Charles Spencer, The Daily Telegraph's man in the stalls, the only people who won't enjoy Spamalot are "the chronically depressed, the criminally insane and the snootier drama critics". He might have added a fourth category, namely, those of us who admire the Pythons for their radical, groundbreaking humour.

The poster for Spamalot boasts that it has been "lovingly ripped-off" from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, but it's hard to detect much love for the film in the way Eric Idle has exploited it to create this commercial venture. Lest we forget, Monty Python and the Holy Grail was a witty piss-take of the sentimental view of Medieval Britain associated with the romantic poets, most notably Wordsworth. There are few traces of this satirical target in Spamalot. Rather, Idle has taken the plot and some of the jokes and inserted them into a toothless send-up of musical theatre. Indeed, Spamalot doesn't merely lack bite. Idle and his director, Mike Nichols, have created a show that, to all intents and purposes, is an affectionate tribute to the Great White Way. Next to Spamalot, The Producers seems like a vicious, Swiftian satire.

I'm hardly one of the snootier drama critics, but even I was astonished by Idle's complete disregard for Monty Python's subversive roots. As an example, take Idle's most memorable contribution to The Life of Brian which is the moment when a man who's about to be crucified starts singing 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life'. Given the context in which the song appears, it's an inspired piece of commentary on the kind of thick-skulled optimism that refuses to acknowledge man's inhumanity to man. Needless to say, it isn't long before the cast of Spamalot break into a rendition of 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life', but it's in response to a fairly mild setback rather than the prospect of certain death. In other words, it's an appropriate reaction to their circumstances, thus robbing the song of all its satirical content.

I could go on--but what's the point? Spamalot has clearly been designed with the sole purpose of making Broadway theatre-goers feel pleased with themselves. Idle hasn't even bothered to Anglicise the play for British audiences. (At one point, a Knight of the Round Table says, "What am I? Chopped liver?") In effect, he's taken a classic piece of English satire and transformed it into a ringing endorsement of one of the most moribund and exhausted forms of American popular culture. It reminded me of a Hollywood remake of a British war film in which all the heroes have been turned into Americans.

Interestingly enough, Caroline, or Change, a new musical with a book by Tony Kushner and a score by Jeanine Tesori, has much more in common with Monty Phython and the Holy Grail in that it's a genuine attempt to break new ground. It isn't a satire, but it, too, has a myth that it wants to debunk which is the sentimental portrait of race relations in the segregationist South. The Caroline of the title is a black maid who toils all day in the household of a Jewish musician in Louisiana--and she's about as unlike the Hattie McDaniel character in Gone With The Wind as it's possible to be. Far from being a warm-hearted rustic, she's a bitter, angry, heartbroken wretch. She even falls out with the boy of the family, a well-meaning eight-year-old whose only crime is to try and supplement her meagre wages with the occasional bit of pocket change. She's the anti-Mammy.

The problem with Caroline, or Change is that there's simply no reason for it to be a musical rather than a straight play. Tony Kushner, America's most celebrated contemporary playwright, has created a fascinating central character, surrounded her with a rich ensemble of secondary characters, and plunged them all into a period of tumultuous social upheaval--all of which is immensely promising material for a compelling piece of drama. Why, then, set it to music? It's not as if you can ignore the songs, either, since there's scarcely a line of dialogue which isn't accompanied. Kushner has made life particularly difficult for himself by deliberately eschewing precisely those ingredients--sentimentality, optimism, romance--that are essential for the success of any musical. On Broadway, Caroline, or Change closed after just 38 performances and the chances of this production transferring to the West End are vanishing to zero. Still, it's a bold experiment and a refreshing antidote to the cynicism of Spamalot.

I took the au pair to see Dirty Dancing--she claims to have lost count of the number of times she's seen the original film--and I'm sorry to report she was mildly disappointed. In her view, Josef Brown, who plays the male lead, is no match for Patrick Swayze. Fortunately, the female lead, played by Georgina Rich, is very good indeed and I enjoyed Dirty Dancing a great deal. Not one for the snootier drama critics, perhaps, but a thoroughly enjoyable crowd-pleaser nonetheless.

[ FIXED LINK ] Bookmark and Share





Twitter Awful story. A revealing glimpse of what Corbyn’s “caring” supporters are really like link  (34 minutes ago)

BEST OF THE WEB

The Warlock Hunt by Claire Berlinski - the-american-interest.com
Is classical liberalism conservative? by Yarom Hazony - jerusalemletters.com
The Implosion of Western Liberalism by Patrick Lee Miller - quillette.com
The Eton of the East End - Daily Mail
The reactionary temptation by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
The book that scandalised New York intellectuals by Louis Menand - newyorker.com
To understand Britain today, look to the 17th Century by Adrian Wooldridge - economist.com
The crisis in France by Christopher Caldwell - city-journal.org
A Visit to Michaela School by Patrick Alexander - prospectmagazine.co.uk
Why parenting may not matter by Brian Boutwell - quillette.com
Trump Establishment's Cultural Significance Explained by Michael Wolff - newsweek.com
Branching histories of the 2016 referendum by Dominic Cummings - dominiccummings.wordpress.com
Putin's Real Long Game by Molly K McKew - politico.com
The Flight 93 Election by Publius Decius Mus - claremont.org
How the education gap is tearing politics apart by David Runciman - theguardian.com
What's wrong with identity politics by Graeme Archer - conservativehome.com
Grammars and the grain of truth by Jonathan Porter
Anti-Brexit: Britain's new class war by John O'Sullivan - nationalreview.com
The English Revolt by Robert Tombs - newstatesman.com
Democracies end when they are too democratic by Andrew Sullivan - nymag.com
Human beings really are making progress by Steven Pinker - edge.org
What ISIS really wants by Graeme Wood - theatlantic.com
A society ripe for Submission by Douglas Murray - quadrant.org.au
Beware the soft Stalinists of the campus by David Aaronovitch - thetimes.co.uk
Why I'm a Conservative Teacher by Jonathan Porter - conservativeteachers.com
Corbyn's Inconvenient Truth – He wanted the IRA to win - youtu.be
Corbyn's first seven days - theguardian.com
Corbin's cabinet chaos by Darren McCaffrey - news.sky.com
Why I've become Tory scum by Tony Parsons - gq-magazine.co.uk
Inside Westminster's free school - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn's politics are a fantasy – just like Alice in Wonderland by Tony Blair - theguardian.com
Robert Conquest obit - telegraph.co.uk
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite – it's so much worse than that - news.stv.tv
In defence of free schools by Toby Young - standpointmag.co.uk
 

BLOGROLL

Andrew Lilico
Andrew Neil
Andrew Sullivan
Arts and Letters Daily
Bagehot's Notebook
BBC News
BBC Sport
Benedict Brogan
Brendan O'Neill
Bruce Anderson
Coffee House
Conservative Home
Damian McBride
Damian Thompson
Dan Hodges
Daniel Hannon
Ed West
Frank Furedi
Guido Fawkes
Harry Phibbs
Iain Dale
Iain Martin
James Delingpole
James Wolcott
Joe Murphy
John Rentoul
Labour List
Mark Steyn
Matt Drudge
Mehdi Hasan
Melanie Phillips
Michael Wolff
Nick Cohen
Nick Robinson
Nikki Finke
Normblog
Paul Waugh
Peter Hitchens
Political Betting
Right Minds
Rob Long
Rod Liddle
Slate
Sophy Ridge
Stephen Pollard
The Arts Desk
The Corner
The Daily Beast
The First Post
The Omnivore
The Onion
Tim Shipman
Tim Stanley
Tom Shone
 

COLUMNISTS

AA Gill
Aidan Hartley
Allison Pearson
Allister Heath
AO Scott
Boris Johnson
Charles Moore
Cosmo Landesman
Daniel Finkelstein
David Brooks
Fraser Nelson
George Monbiot
Giles Coren
Henry Winter
James Delingpole
Jan Moir
Janan Ganesh
Jeremy Clarkson
Jeremy Warner
Jim White
Jonathan Freedland
Lloyd Evans
Manohla Dargis
Martin Samuel
Mary Ann Sieghart
Matthew d'Ancona
Matthew Norman
Maureen Dowd
Michiko Kakutani
Owen Jones
Patrick O'Flynn
Paul Krugman
Peter Bradshaw
Peter Oborne
Philip Collins
Polly Toynbee
Quentin Letts
Rachel Johnson
Rod Liddle
Roy Greenslade
Tim Montgomerie
Trevor Kavanagh
 
UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • UK Book Cover

  • Buy the book on Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the book on Amazon.com


  • Audio Book Cover

  • Buy the audio book from
    Whole Story Audio
  • DVD Cover

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.co.uk

  • Buy the DVD from Amazon.com


  • IMdb Page on the film