Judge Jim Thomas is not the messiah...and he's a very naughty boy. Dammit, Idle, you've ripped off my life story!!
Our review of Not The Messiah: He's A Very Naughty Boy (Blu-Ray), published June 28th, 2010, is also available.
Behold, the Divine Comedy Concert from the Makers of Spamalot!
Following the Broadway success of Spamalot, Eric Idle decided to have a go at transforming another Python classic. With the help of a Toronto commission, he and musical collaborator John du Prez created Not The Messiah: He's a Very Naughty Boy, an oratorio based on Monty Python's Life of Brian. The oratorio, puckishly modeled after Handel's Messiah was a success, so much so that Idle was asked to perform it in The Royal Albert Hall—the British Equivalent of Carnegie Hall—to celebrate the fortieth anniversary of Monty Python. The other members of Monty Python turned in supporting roles, with the notable exceptions of Graham Chapman (understandable) and John Cleese (not so much).
Facts of the Case
Brian Cohen is a poor Jewish kid who, born on the same night as Jesus, is mistaken for the Messiah. All he really wants to do is grow old with his newfound girlfriend Judith; alas, it is not to be, as he wuns afoul of Wome and meets a twagic, twagic end.
What you get here is a nice Python-esque romp through classical music. The music itself is pretty good, though I'll admit that I had to listen to it a few times to get into the rhythm of things—you may want to turn on the subtitles the first few times you watch it (see Rebuttal Witnesses). While the score has a predominantly baroque feel to it (or as Michael Palin terms it, "baroque and roll"), Idle and du Prez don't hesitate to shift into spirituals, do wop, or whatever other musical style fits the mood or material. In short, anything for a laugh—which has always been Python's modus operandi.
Most of the classic segments from Life of Brian are here (the stoning and the alien spaceships, sadly, are not included). One of my personal favorite lines is included ("How shall we piss off, O Lord?"), and the entire sequence in individuality takes a flying leap into silliness when Idle decides to channel Bob Dylan. While the danger of familiarity breeding contempt is ever present, for the most part, some inventive musical decisions change the equation just enough to keep some well-worn jokes from becoming stale. Some bits, though, simply never get old.
There are a few musical spoofs of Handel himself, and the delightful "Amourdeus" (yes, that is spelled correctly), described as "an act of choral sex." Everyone, from the soloists through the chorus, is clearly having a good time, as are the other members of Python.
The oratorio ends, as does the movie, with the standard "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," after which Pontius Pilate returns on stage to make a stunning revelation.
Video is pretty good. We get a modest slate of extras: "On the Road to the Albert Hall," clocking in at about 20 minutes, is a nice look at the various phases of development and rehearsal—though rehearsal is heavily favored. It's followed by "Showtime," about two minutes worth of backstage footage from the show (really, it's so brief it probably should have been incorporated with the longer featurette), and "The Bright Side," an exceedingly brief look at the famous number. There's also a set of sing-along tracks for six or seven of the songs.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
The sound is a disappointment. Either the Royal Albert Hall has the worst acoustics this side of a truck stop restroom, or the disc was mixed by someone with a severe head cold. Soloists—who are miked individually—sound fine, but the orchestra and chorus sound as though the microphones were placed halfway between the musicians and the audience. The lower registers are weak, and the chorus tends to be a little muddy, making the lyrics hard to follow. To be fair, between the orchestra and the chorus we're talking around 250 performers, but that's why sound engineers are so important.
There are a couple of instances in which Idle and du Prez recycle some music from Spamalot; unfortunately, in each case, the melody has one or two notes tweaked, and the new melody just doesn't work.
Musically, Not the Messiah presents no real threat to PDQ Bach's The Seasonings or Oedipus Tex, which represent the gold standard of comic oratorios, but it's fun enough, and it's Monty Python. Python fans will simply enjoy it, while non-Python fans can simply go piss off.
Make of that image placement what you will.
Note: This review has been approved by the Judean People's—er, make that The People's Front of Judea.
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