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Boys and Grails

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Q: What is the average airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow?

A: According to various swallow experts, about 24 miles per hour, provided the half-pound birds (of either the African or English extraction) aren't somehow attached to a much heavier coconut. And now for something completely different.

When Lerner and Loewe's Broadway musical extravaganza Camelot opened in 1960, Richard Burton's King Arthur scampered about the stage in tights and sang about his magical kingdom where everyone is well-behaved and even the weather is subject to royal decree. By the time Monty Python filmed Monty Python and the Holy Grail in 1975, Arthur's idyllic kingdom had been reduced to a cardboard model on the horizon and knights scamper about the forest on imaginary horses and eat "ham and jam and Spam a lot." Thirty years later, the movie was reinvented as the Broadway musical Spamalot, closing the circle on nearly a half-century's worth of Anglophilic silliness. What does this have to do with the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow? Everything, of course.

Not every fan of the film will get all the visual puns in Spamalot. In its transformation from screen to stage, it became not only a satire of English legend and lore but a no-holds-barred send-up of the modern Broadway musical. "The Song That Goes Like This" apes the music of Andrew Lloyd Webber, while medieval knights twirl about the stage like the villagers in Fiddler on the Roof and square off to rumble like the gangs in West Side Story. But for all the changes, one thing remains the same: From silly walks to the rude French guardsmen who fart in your general direction to the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow, Spamalot is seriously funny. So get on with it.

"Spamalot," The Orpheum, Tuesday-Sunday, February 13-18, $25-$80

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