Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy), the oratorio based on Monty Python’s Life of Brian (1979; my comments), has been making its way through a few American cities lately. Here are a couple of the newer reviews.
First, Stephen Brookes of the Washington Post:
Most of the world’s great oratorios, it’s probably fair to say, don’t generate a lot of belly laughs. But then again, most oratorios don’t feature a Bob Dylan imitation, a troupe of bagpipers, three stuffed sheep and a musical leaf-blower — all of which appeared at Wolf Trap on Thursday night in Eric Idle’s hysterically funny new production, “Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy).” . . .
Du Prez conducted the National Symphony Orchestra and the Master Chorale of Washington with a light touch, and there were fine turns by the four soloists, particularly the young tenor William Ferguson in the role of Brian. But it was Idle himself who stole the show (his dead-on Dylan impersonation will go down in musical history). After the show closed with a singalong of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” the audience brought him back for three curtain calls.
Second, Richard S. Ginell of Variety:
Have Idle and Du Prez gone to the well one time too many? Not really, for while the 75-minute piece contains several fond references for Python fans — including a paraphrase of the notorious “Lumberjack Song” — Du Prez has come up with a mostly new score.
Furthermore, the main point here is a satire on oratorio form — in particular, the perennial pleasures of Handel’s “Messiah.” In doing so, Idle and Du Prez are continuing a fine old British tradition of classical send-ups dating back to Gilbert and Sullivan and, even more pertinently, the uproarious Hoffnung Festivals of the 1950s. . . .
Du Prez’s score, whose roving style he accurately labels “iPod Shuffle,” has some timebombs imbedded within. You think he is writing serious songs in a banal popera manner, and things suddenly make a turn toward the loony bin: “I Want to Change the World” breaks into rockin’ gospel, and a bagpipes band eventually takes over “You’re the One.”
Sometimes the detonation takes a while; you have to wait a bit too long for “The Final Song” to undermine its Lloyd Webber-ish rhetoric. And there are only a few direct homages to the model, with “We Love Sheep” the most obvious (a reference to “Messiah’s” “All We Like Sheep”). . . .
The piece is inconsistent; there could have been more sustained hilarity, and the most memorable thing in the score remains the classic, chipper holdover from the film, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.” But Gerard Hoffnung may have found some worthy successors here.
Believe it or not, there is a third reference to Hoffnung in Ginell’s review, too — because Hoffnung once “introduced a vacuum cleaner as a soloist”, thus setting a precedent of sorts for Idle’s use of a keyboard-operated leaf blower.
Click here for some reviews I quoted when the oratorio had its world premiere in Toronto fourteen months ago.