The Road to ... SPAMALOT!
In the words of Spamalot creator himself, Eric Idle, the show was lovingly ripped off from the original film, Monty Python and the Holy Grail.
Eric Idle was a leading force in the British comedy group Monty Python (sometimes known as The Pythons) that created the influential Monty Python’s Flying Circus, a British television comedy sketch show that first aired on the BBC in October, 1969 and continued through 1974. The Python phenomenon developed from the television series into something larger in scope and impact, spawning touring stage shows, films, numerous albums, several books and a stage musical as well as launching the members to individual stardom. The group's influence on comedy has been compared to The Beatles’ influence on music. The television series, was conceived, written and performed by Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. This self-contained comedy team was responsible for both writing and performing their work, as a result, they changed the way performers entertained audiences.
Eric Idle wrote the majority of the songs the group produced over the years accumulating 150 songs to his credit, among them some of Monty Python's most famous, including “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” A composer named John Du Prez played trumpet on that recording, and became Idle's longtime collaborator, co-writing music for The Meaning of Life.
Eric Idle had been thinking about writing a musical comedy with Du Prez for years, ever since he had starred as Ko-Ko, the lord high executioner, in English National Opera's 1986 production of The Mikado. Two years later, he went to Mel Brooks, and pitched a stage adaptation of The Producers. Brooks declined, wanting to concentrate on films, and being unsure that such a thing would work – he eventually produced the show on his own. Idle and Du Prez continued to look for the right property. It wasn’t until the opening night of The Producers that Idle came up with the idea for the Holy Grail musical. However, he initially dismissed it because of a Python business agreement.
In their early years the Pythons made an informal agreement that any one of them had the power of veto over possible Python projects. Over the years, this had protected them from a variety of ill-advised spinoffs or misuses of the Python name, but the requirement also hampered many other endeavors, "There was always someone saying no," Idle said. He said no himself in the past.
Idle realized he was right about The Producers, and with that he decided to pursue Spamalot. He prepared intensely on his own, before telling the other Pythons he was working on the musical. Determined to assemble the most polished presentation possible, he sent the Pythons not only a draft of the script but half a dozen studio versions of the songs. After sending out the Spamalot songs and script, Idle waited for the Pythons' approval, expecting that it might take weeks or months. As it happened, Idle heard back from all of them in short order. "There was an unnerving degree of agreement," Idle wrote. Idle received notes of encouragement and constructive criticism of the script from the Pythons, all well knowing it was Idle's project, for better or worse. Eric Idle wrote seventeen drafts of the script and re-wrote act two three times, over a period of four or five years, before it was completed.
Eric Idle then pulled on board legendary Mike Nichols as Director, whose film and stage credits include multiple Academy and Tony Awards and such hits as Neil Simon’s Barefoot In The Park and The Odd Couple. Nichols was adamant that the show be more than an assemblage of Monty Python's greatest hits. It had to make sense, had to tell a story, and, at the same time, had to please many disparate groups at once: the longtime Python fans, the sometime Python fans, and people who might, even now, think they were going to see an actual circus. "There are some things you know will be there - killer rabbits - but you also need to feel that you're getting somewhere, that it isn't just a random revue."
Spamalot became a huge hit, taking in $175m at the Broadway box office alone and was nominated for 14 Tony Awards, winning three including Best Musical!