NOT THE MESSIAH (HE’S A VERY NAUGHTY BOY)

Civic Theatre, cnr of Queen Street & Wellesley Street West, Auckland

15/12/2007 - 16/12/2007

Production Details


Created and performed by Eric Idle


“Shorter than Handel, funnier than Handel, but obviously not as good theologically.” Eric Idle

Hallelujah – Brian has risen! Move over Handel, the team that unleashed Spamalot on an unsuspecting public has combined to give Monty Python’s Life of Brian the Messiah treatment. Following a phenomenal response in Sydney, with the first show selling out within days, Not the Messiah is coming to The Civic, THE EDGE®.

Join Monty Python superstar Eric Idle and collaborator John Du Prez in this triumphant re-telling of the legendary film. Drink in the Christmas spirit with a rousing sing-a-long finale of Always Look on the Bright Side of Life. Be inspired by Hail to the Shoe. Expect pop, Welsh hymns, country and western, hip hop, Broadway, Greek chorus, Bob Dylan, and Eric Idle as the baritone-ish soloist and narrator.

It’s a night of baroque n’ roll on a grand scale, with the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra, Viva Voce, bagpipers and classical soloists, all hosted by the Python frontman. Watch in awe as Idle re-creates some of his best known roles from Life of Brian including Mr Cheeky, the man in the crowd who asked if Mandy is a virgin, and the lead singer, Crucifixee.

Marvel at the recreation of musical hits such as the rousing O God You Are So Big, the poignant Woe Woe Woe, the petulant What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us and the final The Final Song. But whatever you do, don’t expect anything serious.

PERFORMANCE DETAILS: NOT THE MESSIAH
Venue:  The Civic, THE EDGE®
Dates:  Saturday 15 and Sunday 16 December
Time:  7.30pm
Tickets:  $79 – $139
Bookings:  0800 TICKETEK or online at ticketek.co.nz


SINGERS
Tenor Bradley Daley
Mezzo Kirsti Harms
Soprano Sharon Prero
Baritone Eric Idle
Bass Michael Lewis

OTHER MUSICIANS
composer/conductor John Du Prez
the Auckland Philharmonia
30-voice choir Viva Voce


Theatre , Music ,


Nicely Handeled by Eric the Not-Half Idle and Company

Review by Nik Smythe 18th Dec 2007

I confess, I all but stalked the promoters for tickets to review this show, being a long time Python nerd (one of those really annoying ones who’d repeat classic sketches in my sleep), and a particular fan of both Eric Idle and that perennial Christmas (+Easter) tale, The Life of Brian.

The concept is logical: for centuries we have known that great oratorio based on the life of Jesus Christ, Georg Friedrich Händel’s The Messiah.  Yet for more than a quarter of a century a different legend has existed – that of Brian, the naive and hapless Jewish anti-Roman activist who is mistaken for the Messiah and can’t shake the reputation for the life of him. 

Therefore do we now behold this ‘counter-oratorio’ to the classic Python counter-myth.  Idle joins composer/conductor John Du Prez, four highly accomplished soloists, the Auckland Philharmonia and 30-voice choir Viva Voce, in a splendidly ridiculous pseudo-classical opera of eric, sorry epic, proportions. 

Youthful tenor Bradley Daley’s numerous vocal roles include that of reluctant protagonist Brian, made famous in the film by the late Graham Chapman.  Mezzo Kirsti Harms’ feature role is that of Mrs. Cohen, Brian’s long-suffering working class mother.  Soprano Sharon Prero, who plays Brian’s girlfriend Judith, has notably also sung soprano with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra for Händel’s Messiah.  Australian opera veteran Michael Lewis takes on the bass parts with aplomb, and a swag of characters including many of those originated by the great J.C. himself, John Cleese.

Idle delivers his ‘baritone-ish’ parts with grace and humility, with never a hint of prima-donna upstaging.  As if he’d ever need to – the big name on the bill and the one everyone’s here to see.  Now and then the whole operatic scenario starts seeming a bit too bizarre to fathom, then along comes Eric with one of the myriad hilarious roles he played in the movie, bringing it all back to something we can relate to.

Many of the 25 musical pieces are based on a single line from the original script – ‘O God You Are So Big’, ‘I Want To Be A Girl’, ‘Hail To The Shoe’ and so on, all given a swollen symphonic treatment worthy of the world-class ensemble performing them. 

In addition to the fertile material the film provides, the Lumberjack Song receives a heartfelt tribute in the form of a version as it may have been composed by Händel himself, or one of his students.  Plus he’s not above a gratuitous and not particularly accurate Bob Dylan parody, though physically he more closely resembles our own Midge Marsden.

John Du Prez has an impressive canon of recognisable work behind him, including scores for a number of Python films and other projects and the Ninja Turtles movie series.  The central core of his composition for Not the Messiah is operatic, but thanks to a musical ethic he refers to as ‘I-pod Shuffle’, many a 20th century genre has a cameo throughout the piece. 

Raised above the front-stage vocal cast, his back to us as he faces the on-stage orchestra and choir group, Du Prez conducts these locals with subtly vigorous flair.  The locals in turn come to the party with symphonic movements that swell up in all the right places and dramatic choral harmonies to match, peppered liberally throughout with amusing surprises and absurdities.  It may be satirical, it may be hilarious, but the musicians play with the same professional drive as any other more ‘serious’ material. 

The choir could do with a tad more choreographic precision when waving their torches during the show’s evangelical centrepiece ‘You’re the One’ at the end of part III (of V), and if they had only swayed side to side when clapping to the soulful gospel number ‘Freedom’, I might have been moved to join in.  (Perhaps that’s why they didn’t?). 

These are petty quibbles with what is wholly an original and strongly executed performance.  The entire ambitious production is nicely handeled by Du Prez, Eric the not-half Idle, and company … except I’ve no idea what the bagpipe quartet’s spot was relevant to, they were just silly.  

The only musical piece directly transposed from the film is the finale.  The pathetically ironic whistling anthem ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’ seems an appropriately glib parallel to the climactic Hallelujah Chorus of Händel’s original.

How clear would the narrative be to audience members not primed by the outstanding original motion picture Monty Python’s The Life of Brian?  I imagine it would be difficult; on the other hand someone well versed in opera and/or concept albums may have the training to cope.  To all intents and purposes Not the Messiah is an extravagant accessory to the classic 1979 film and if you are unfamiliar with it I recommend you make it the next film you see.
 

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