There was a time not long ago when the "Monty Python" phenomenon had all but hit a standstill.
After a five-year run of the television program "Monty Python and the Flying Circus," five variously successful films, three stage shows and a smattering of albums, some doubted whether the six-member troupe, progenitors of such varied and beloved material, had any life left to lend.
Leave it to Eric Idle, one of the group's more optimistic and enthusiastic members, to create "Spamalot," a musical that was the subject of much doubt when it debuted in 2005, but which has since become one of the most successful in a series of self-mocking Broadway titles of recent years. The show, which won the 2005 Tony Award for best musical, comes to Shea's Performing Arts Center on Tuesday for a six-day run.
The musical echoes a particularized comic sensibility somewhat akin to that of Mel Brooks' "The Producers," which ended its six-year run on Broadway on Sunday. Whether it's a show at the forefront of a continuing trend toward self-mockery on Broadway, or a product at the tail end of that movement, is up for speculation.
What's agreed upon, however, is that the "Monty Python" brand of humor -- so long considered to be too particularized for a broad American audience -- has found a brand new segment of the population to conquer.
"It appeals to a lot of people who haven't been to the theater, put it that way," said Michael Siberry, an Australian-born veteran of Broadway and London's West End who plays the lead character, King Arthur. "I think it's a style of humor that's become more accessible since they first sort of started it. It's broadened out, and people are more familiar with this sort of surreal and bizarre absurdism. People don't feel too threatened or sort of intimidated by it. They just want to visit."
Siberry, whose previous roles have tended to the Shakespearean and usually more serious, is a bit of a visitor to this style of musical himself. He said the touring version of "Spamalot," in which he has played the lead role for more than a year, gives him a grand opportunity to see the country and to work on something a bit less daunting than his previous roles, which have included various Shakespearean roles, Captain von Trapp in the 1998 Broadway production of "The Sound of Music" and Eliot in Noel Coward's "Private Lives" in Bath, England.
"It's a great pleasure to be in something you don't have to take seriously," Siberry said. "You don't have to make work to convince people that you're feeling something true and real when you've got a very sort of superficial plot."
The musical includes numbers made famous by the original Pythons -- "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," "Knights of the Round Table" -- but also a number of Broadway-mocking tunes newly written by Idle and composer John Du Prez, like "The Song That Goes Like This" and "You Won't Succeed on Broadway."
And now that "Spamalot" has already succeeded on Broadway, it's out to conquer the rest of the country.
WHAT: "Monty Python's Spamalot"
WHEN: Opens at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday and runs through May 6
WHERE: Shea's Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St.
TICKETS: $27.50 to $67.50
INFO: 852-5000 or www.sheas.org