Idle Motivation

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I’m at Radio City Music Hall for the 2005 Tony Awards, billed as Broadway’s biggest night, though I always thought that was Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber. I have never even seen a Tony show before. When God was doling out showbiz DNA, I must have missed out on that particular gay gene. But I do love musical theater, having grown up in a world of Gilbert and Sullivan before switching to a mature respect for Frank Loesser, Richard Rodgers, Cole Porter and Lerner & Loewe.

So for a vaguely hetero man, I am rather fond of musical comedy. I have, though, found the comedy part noticeably absent for the last 20 years, what with helicopters landing onstage, underground boats in Parisian sewers and people with plates on their faces. We must thank the glorious Mel Brooks for reviving the virtually extinct musical-comedy form and making Monty Python’s Spam­alot financially possible.

My main reason for being in musical theater is, of course, easy access to the girls’ dressing room. I was a dirty young man, and I see no reason why being old should change my behavior. Who wants to be a clean old man anyway? Yes, this can lead to charges of sexual harassment, but I figure, Let the girls enjoy themselves—I won’t press charges. So chorines everywhere have become used to my knock on the door and my shout, “Are you naked yet?”

“Come in, Eric,” they cry patiently.

These are the perks of musical theater. Once, in Melbourne, I was invited to enter, only to find three stunning girls standing stark naked, cool as you like, daring me to look down. Well, as I am a British chap, I went around shaking hands and wishing them all a good show, never once drooling or whooping or screaming out, “Will you look at that, for God’s sake!” That is British self-control at its finest. Afterward, I said to my wife, “When I die, I want to be buried in the girls’ dressing room in Melbourne.”

“You’re going to be,” she said tartly.

But I digress. So it’s the Tonys, and we’re crammed into penguin suits for Broadway’s most glamorous night, though I always thought that was Sir Ian McKellen—and yes, I will stop using that joke. The audience, of all sexes, is drooling over Hugh Jackman, who is presenting. Spamalot has been nominated for 14 Tonys and has lost in six categories. I’m heading back into the auditorium when I see Mike Nichols coming urgently toward me.

“They’re going to stiff us,” he says. “You have to think of something to say.”

In a previous life, I used to write ad-libs for David Frost, so I am not unused to this sort of task. “I’ll have a go.”Mike returns glumly to his seat, and I rack my brain for something that will sound suitably grateful for being completely passed over. It’s like trying to write an altar speech for a jilted bride. I am so far into my task of trying to think of something funny and grown-uppy to say—which has barely progressed beyond We don’t really mind because we do this stuff for laughs, not for statuettes, and that Monty Python never got any awards, no Oscars, no Grammys, no Emmys, no Tonys, no Ritas, no Peters, no Ivors, no Conchitas, and that didn’t hurt us any—that I barely notice when I personally lose for Best Book of a Musical.

Advised by the irresistible Jackman that this would be a good time, my gorgeous wife exits to the bathroom during what is promised to be a long commercial break and is replaced in her seat by a mature-looking lady seat filler with a very large and very bizarre hat that resembles a ginger tomcat squatting on her head.

Of course this is the moment the cameras single out me and “my wife” for our close-up, as we bravely lose for Best Original Score. I am so busy trying not to laugh at this woman smiling by my side, giggling in the knowledge that people all over America are thinking, What ever happened to Tania? and Has he gone mad taking up with an elderly cat woman? that I don’t even have time to feel any disappointment. We have, after all, been to several ceremonies recently, and Mike has picked up a variety of oddly shaped statuettes and made funny speeches. My favorite, when yet again his name was called, was watching him look genuinely puzzled at the audience and say sadly, “I miss failure.”

Well, tonight the Pigeons of Irony are certainly coming home to roost, as we continue to miss out on Best Choreography, Best Score, Best Sets, Best Costumes, Best New Shoes, etc, etc. Finally the Tony Fairy relents, and the utterly deserving Sara Ramírez heads down to thank us, her parents and Claritin for nabbing Best Performance for Featured Actress in a Musical. And then Mike’s nightmare is over—he wins yet another Tony for Best Director. I crumple up my pathetic half-written one-liners in relief.

But fate has one more surprise for us. After a long and occasionally interesting evening, Jackman reads the name of Best Musical of 2005, and incredibly—surprisingly—it’s Spamalot. Wow! Who would have thunk it? Our cast in knight’s armor and wenches costumes spills out to Jackman whooping and hollering, and the auditorium is filled with beaming producers hurrying to the stage. I beat them to it by a good yard and a half, Mike gives me a proud hug and I barely restrain myself from kissing Hugh Jackman. (There’ll be other opportunities.)

So, yes, I am strangely proud of that moment, and now we are finally bringing Spamalot home to L.A., where it began. That’s right, this is L.A. theater really: John Du Prez and I wrote it here; we recorded it in a tiny garage in Sylmar; we wrote our oratorio “Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy)” here; we penned our radio film What About Dick? here, as well as Rutlemania! And despite receiving no other awards, we shall continue to work on idiotic ideas that nobody wants. After all, New York currently has so many revivals it should be called Old York.

So, if you managed to miss Spamalot in New York, Las Vegas, London, Melbourne or around the U.S. on tour, here is your last chance to miss it again. But if you do come, you’ll find me hanging around the girls’ dressing room.

Spamalot runs through September 6 at the Ahmanson Theatre, centertheatregroup.org.

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