A divinely silly entertainment from the Monty Python people.
Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) – A Comic Oratorio based on Monty Python’s Life of Brian
By Joel Benjamin
Eric Idle partnered with composer John Du Prez and came up with a screwball oratorio for soloists, chorus, orchestra and pipers (plus a “Sheep Lady”) called, appropriately enough, Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy). His hope was to draw more audiences to classical music concerts. Judging by the nearly full house, he has succeeded. Not the Messiah (subtitled: A Comic Oratorio based on Monty Python’s Life of Brian) is a classy comic work of head-spinning eclecticism, combining classical & baroque music with hints of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stephen Schwartz, ponderous biblical film music, Calypso and Latin American music tossed in willy-nilly. (Mr. Du Prez calls it “the iPod shuffle.”)
Against the array of the large Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the immense Collegiate Chorale, four terrific singers and Mr. Idle told the story of Brian who was born the same time as Jesus. Brian inadvertently becomes a faux messiah and is crucified. (It’s funnier than it sounds!) The fabulous Victoria Clark sang the role of Brian’s not terribly viriginal mother; silver-voiced William Ferguson was the bewildered Brian; sweet, but passionate Lauren Worsham was Brian’s girlfriend Judith; and leading man stalwart Marc Kudisch turned his rich bass on a number of characters. Mr. Idle was the narrator and a reasonably decent singer of his own work. (At least he was sincere.)
The telling of Brian’s story involves the discovery of the Book of Brian (“Mrs. Betty Parkinson”) which relates the unrest in Judea at the time of Brian’s birth—unfortunately, the same time as Jesus’. There is “Chaos and Confusion,” fearful worship (“O God You Are So Big”) and very horny shepherds (“We Love Sheep”). We are led through gender confusion (“I Want to Be a Girl”), kvetching (“What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us?”) and worship of symbols (“Hail to the Shoe!”). Hearing all this performed so seriously and so professionally made it all so much funnier.
By the time we get to “Always Look On the Bright Side,” the audience was primed for en masse arm waving and lots of smiles. This bizarrely optimistic anthem is prime Monty Python material.
It’s rare that a funny work is given such a passionate reading. Ted Sperling, the Artistic Director of the Collegiate Chorale, should be immensely proud of his ensemble which was called upon to whistle, wear funny hats and still hit all the notes. He rose nobly to the double duty of conducting both the Chorale and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. He even had to corral members of the New York Metro Pipe Band as they came down the venerable aisles of Carnegie Hall. It is to Maestro Sperling’s credit that it all came together so perfectly.
Photos: Erin Baiano
Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy)
A Comic Oratorio based on Monty Python’s Life of Brian
December 15 & 16, 2014
Carnegie Hall 154 West 57th St. at 7th Ave. New York, NY
Tickets: 212-247-7800 or www.carnegiehall.org
More Information: www.OSLmusic.org or www.collegiatechorale.org