Running into novelist Bruce Wagner was my first indication that tonight was going to be a bigger deal than I’d expected. The Philip Roth of contemporary L.A. letters, accompanied by a fetching, raven-haired companion, looked resplendent in a smart, no-collar black tux with tails. When I next came upon Ben Vereen, radiating the effortless air of a bon vivant in tails and top hat, I started to feel a little underdressed in my too-tight thrift-shop suit.
Next, as knaves and wenches ushered people to their seats in the Grail Theater, I spotted Geena Davis’ disembodied head bobbing above the crush of wee earthlings on its way toward the orchestra seats.
I took my seat near the top of the orchestra section, and sitting behind me was Roy Horn, of Siegfried and Roy fame. He looked tan, fit and healthy, though I wasn’t sure if that shock of platinum hair was a dye job or the last vestiges of his unfortunate encounter with that ill-tempered tiger. Robin Leach, apparently still living large, trundled down the aisle toward his front-row seat with a small entourage and a cocktail or two in tow. Steve Martin was already down in front; rumor had it that Robin Williams was too.
You’d expect this kind of star power at a big L.A. movie premiere, but this was the Las Vegas debut of Monty Python alum Eric Idle’s decidedly silly Spamalot. The musical adaptation of the cult classic Monty Python and the Holy Grail — the film that, in my college days, launched a thousand bong hits (and that’s just counting me) — is now playing the Wynn Las Vegas. Which explains John Cleese and Terry Gilliam, who moved through the crush of shutterbugs along the red carpet like two cars going through a car wash. I was there because my wife is a dancer in the show, costumed frequently in blue, often on stage left, with the great legs and a really high kick. She brings the house down (or me, at least) when she drags a cart of hay across the stage, and also when she shrieks “Nee!” during the infamous “We Are the Knights Who Say ‘Nee’?” bit (re-enacted a thousand times by stoned college kids following aforementioned bong sessions). It also excuses the presence of Mike Nichols, whom you may know as the director of Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Silkwood and several other humble contributions to cinematic history, who was there with his wife, Diane Sawyer. You see, besides his Oscar for The Graduate, and Emmy for Angels in America, Nichols has also won nine Tony Awards, including one for Spamalot. And Ed Begley Jr. would show up to the opening of a door, wouldn’t he?
But Bruce Wagner?
Finally, the lights dimmed and the see-and-be-seen fraternizing quieted. The curtain was about to come up. That’s when I glanced to my left just in time to see Slash, the last person to take a seat, amble down the aisle, cradling his signature black top hat in his right arm as if it were a newborn — a gesture born of either good bearing or fear that it might be stolen like it was a couple years ago at a Grammy party, a crime that set off a global Internet campaign for the safe return of the Excalibur of top hats to its rightful master.
If the extended ovation at the end of the show is any barometer, Spamalot took Vegas by storm. If it’s not, the fact that a spent Robert Goulet was later seen slumped on a sofa outside the after party certainly is.