It’s not a musical, it’s a very naughty oratorio with full orchestra, a generous choir, four soloists, Eric Idle and his co-composer on “Monty Python’s Spamalot,” John Du Prez, as conductor. Inspired by the immensely popular 1979 Python pic “Life of Brian,” “Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy)” uses scenes from the irreverent comedy about a biblical also-ran to spoof Handel. Premiered in an hour-long version at Toronto’s Luminato Festival earlier this year, the new full production that played a whistle-stop Australian engagement in Sydney has been expanded with additional songs.
Brian, his mother and lover are the most recognizable and consistent characters in a work that cherry-picks from the film for moments infused with musical merriment. The wafer-thin plot essentially consists of a guy discovering he’s been mistaken for the messiah. This results in a piece more reminiscent of Brit radio classic “The Goon Show” than a Monty Python comedy. There’s lots of boisterous fun and puns but scant character development.
Absent are the Sermon on the Mount, the burning bush, the haggle scene and Brian of Nazareth, while the crucifixion and Pontius Pilate rate a mention.
Du Prez’s thoroughly entertaining score starts big and skips joyously from gospel to doo-wop, pop, country and Broadway musical with a detour for Idle to impersonate Bob Dylan on guitar and harmonica. Soloists do a good job bringing dialogue and songs to life, even if Idle does save the best lines for himself.
This show isn’t going to create new Monty Python fans; it’s definitely for the converted, and it would need a whole lot of work to become a full-blown musical — something Idle says is not part of the plan. In any case, a plot would be an advantage.
Tours in the U.S. (including two Hollywood Bowl dates with the L.A. Philarmonic) and Europe are being hatched for “Messiah” in its current form, and success with Python-heads beckons, as it would for any performance that culminates in a sing-along to “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”