Synopsis: In 1979, Monty Python’s Life Of Brian turned the biblical epic on its head. Now, the makers of Spamalot turn classical music on its ear! Prepare for Not The Messiah (He’s A Very Naughty Boy) – the comedic masterpiece that combines all the unforgettable humor of the Python’s most celebrated film with the overblown grandeur of a symphony orchestra. Don’t miss your chance to share the one-night-only performance featuring a rare on-stage reunion of Python troupe, members Eric Idle, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam.
eyelights: the massiveness of the event. Terry Gilliam’s cameo. Idle’s Dylan spoof.
eyesores: the simplistic, uninspired lyrics. the comparatively limited number of jokes.
‘Not the Messiah: He’s a Very Naughty Boy’ is an oratorio based on Monty Python’s comedy classic ‘Life of Brian‘. It was conceived by Eric Idle and John Du Prez in response to the tremendous success of ‘Spamalot, the stage version of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’. It was first performed in Toronto, Ontario in June of 2007.
It basically recounts Brian’s story linearly, starting with his mother getting pregnant. Idle and Du Prez moved some bits around (like the exchange about what the Romans have done for the Jews) to make the show flow in a certain direction. What it is is a general overview of ‘Life of Brian’ over the course of 90 minutes.
This particular presentation is a recording of the October 23, 2009 performance at the Royal Albert Hall, in London, for the Ruby Jubilee of ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’. It features Eric Idle and four other soloists backed by a full orchestra, a massive choir and guest appearances by all of the Pythons except for John Cleese.
Um.. and Graham Chapman. (Just pointing it out, in case someone tries to be funny!)
I have not seen ‘Spamalot’, and I expected to see a more traditional musical, not a production that purposely spoofed Handel’s Messiah – which I have not seen, and thus couldn’t pick up the references. Unfortunately. I really just expected to see ‘Life of Brian’ redone on stage with musical numbers in it. Plain and simple.
But ‘Not the Messiah’ is anything but sketches with musical interludes. What it is, in fact, is a grand-scale production akin to an opera but without the theatre. And what is Monty Python minus the theatre (or the sketches, as the case may be)? It is a series of Eric Idle songs – some great and some not-so-great.
In short, ‘Not the Messiah’ is more “The Eric Idle Show” than a Monty Python show.
Oh, sure, it’s based on Python’s work, but, if anything, it is an homage to their work – with very little of the original material actually making its way into the final product. Idle’s string of songs are inspired by ‘Life of Brian’, but most of the jokes have been jettisoned, leaving a pleasantly offbeat flavour devoid of any edge.
I was surprised by the large variety of musical styles that Idle and Du Prez have conjured up for this show. Unconstrained by the usual limitation of classical music and opera, the pair covered the gamut of relatively conventional musical styles (i.e. no metal, rap or Zulu War Chants) and incorporated them effortlessly.
And that’s part of the problem with the show: it feels mundane, unimpressive in so many ways – the lyrics aren’t inspired, the humour is lacking, the musical choices are middle-of-the-road and the performances are decent, but nothing particularly special. It feels like a C-grade musical made on an A-grade budget.
And that’s where I was the most impressed: with the overall production of this MASSIVE piece – a 120-piece orchestra, 140 choir singers, a large venue dwarfing the stage, and a hall filled to the brim with people, people, people – people who clapped along to the Liberty bell, who waved electric lights in unison, …etc.
In ‘Not the Messiah’, Idle and Du Prez got the whole choir to do unusual things (ex: laugh, bah like sheep, …etc), and sometimes used props (ex: lights, miners’ hats, harmonicas, …etc). They even had some of the orchestra use props at times. This was amusing, but it didn’t make up for the comedy that was missing from the original work.
“Always Look on the Bright Side”, the classic closing number, was a huge hit. No surprise there. People were singing along the whole way through and it was quite the spectacle. It was one of the few songs that actually worked in the whole set – obviously because it was written at a time when Idle’s creativity was still influenced by Monty.
The surprise encore number, ‘The Lumberjack Song’, was an obvious choice for many reasons: it’s well-known, beloved, and it can bring all of the Pythons back on stage together. Palin tore through that one eagerly, and it was a fitting close to a celebration of one of the comedy world’s most notable acts ever.
‘Not the Messiah’ is a show that would sound amazing on blu-ray because it was extremely well arranged and there is much ear candy for fans to savour – it’s a bombastic production, and with countless singers it would no doubt be rather impressive in lossless audio. I may even pick it up someday, if I find it at a reasonable price.
But my overall impression with ‘Not the Messiah’ was that it wasn’t up to snuff, that it didn’t live up to ‘Life of Brian’ in any way. It so rarely resembled the original (aside from the general plot) that I wondered what the point of it was: I mean, why rehash a classic if you’re going to dilute its essence so totally, making it a shadow of its former self?
I got the impression that it was basically Eric Idle’s way of getting the spotlight, of doing his own thing by riding the coattails of something larger than he is. And that’s disappointing: what made Monty Python so fabulous was how edgy, non-conformist and anti-establishment they were. Idle is the establishment now and he’s milking it.
‘Not the Messiah’ is an extremely ambitious production and it will no doubt impress many, including myself, for its grandeur, its scale. But is it effective, in the end? I’m not convinced that it is. It works in some ways, but as a tribute to Monty Python it is an entirely lackluster effort. The Pythons, in their prime, would have done this far better.
It WOULD have been a very naughty boy. It wouldn’t just claim to be.
Date of viewing: January 5, 2014