Reviews Off-Broadway Published 16 December 2014

Not The Messiah (He’s A Very Naughty Boy)

Carnegie Hall ⋄ 15-16 December 2014

A comic oratorio.

Richard Patterson

Holiday cheer comes in many shapes and sizes; in terms of live performance, that means both staid, traditional fare (Radio City Christmas Spectacular) and spiky, irreverent offerings like Eric Idle and John Du Prez’s comic oratorio, Not The Messiah (He’s A Very Naughty Boy), playing at Carnegie Hall for two nights only this week and providing ample merriment to last through New Year’s.

Idle, one of the founding members of British comedy group Monty Python, has adapted their irreverent religious send-up Life of Brian as a comic oratorio in five parts with composer John Du Prez (Idle’s collaborator on the Broadway musical Spamalot, itself based on Monty Python and the Holy Grail). The oratorio, which has a fairly tight plot despite elaborate (and often hilarious) musical tangents, follows Brian (William Ferguson), a not-quite-messiah described as the “wrong man at the wrong time and the wrong place,” born out of “not so immaculate conception” by Mandy (Victoria Clark). His trajectory follows that of Jesus’s — well, loosely. When Brian flees his followers, they hold up a shoe he’s left behind as a symbol of his holiness. But when Stan (a transvestite character played by Idle himself) denies Brian’s status as the messiah, the chorus sings, “Believe in the shoe, or else it will be death to you.”

Not The Messiah features five soloists, including Lauren Worsham (A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder), Victoria Clark (a Tony winner for The Light in the Piazza), William Ferguson, Idle (described in the program as “baritone-ish”), and Marc Kudisch (9 to 5) — plus a sheep lady puppeteer played by Lynne Marie Rosenberg. They’re backed by the Collegiate Chorale — a massive chorus of talented singers who, at least in the context of Idle and Du Prez’s zany piece, aren’t afraid to be a little silly — and the Orchestra of St. Luke’s. Plus, there are several cameos from members of the New York Metro Pipe Band.

The soloists are all excellent. Worsham’s operatic voice, a highlight of Gentleman’s Guide on Broadway, takes center stage on several occasions as she sings the role of Judith. Broadway favorites Clark and Kudisch are similarly good, but Ferguson — more an opera performer than a Broadway baby — is the real find here. His beautifully clear, open voice shines in numbers like “I Want To Change The World” and the title song.

Not The Messiah is no serious work, but it is, at moments, seriously beautiful nonetheless. Ted Sperling’s sprightly conducting keeps the evening moving at a zippy clip. This has to be one of the funniest, most entertaining choral works out there, thanks in part to some fantastic rhymes, including “Like a cake that’s been left out in the rain / On a plain in Spain,” and the recurring rhyme of “freer” and “Judea.”

Idle’s contributions as a cast member are perhaps not the most solid musically, but fans of the Pythons will surely welcome not only his spirited narration but his musical comedy contributions in songs like “I Want To Be A Girl” and “Individuals,” the latter of which features Idle in shades, with his guitar and harmonica, putting across his best-worst Bob Dylan to the great pleasure of the crowd.

Idle and Du Prez’s zany, irreverent humor shines through but doesn’t overwhelm the musicality of the piece, which isn’t so chockablock with jokes that it implodes. The music is, at times, reminiscent of traditional choral music but is also a pastiche of various musical styles, including doo-wop, gospel, and mariachi among others, all leading up to an (ironically) happy ending: Brian’s crucifixion!

“I’m going to be crucified,” Brian tells his mother.

“I brought you some clean underwear,” she replies.

And it all ends with a rousing sing-along rendition of “Always Look On The Bright Side Of Life.”

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Richard Patterson

A graduate of New York University with a degree in Dramatic Literature, Richard was deputy theatre editor at musicOMH.com from 2008-2011 and New York Editor of Exeunt from 2011-2016. He is excited to continue on as a contributor. With a penchant for Sondheim, the Bard, and Beckett, as well as for new writing, theatergoing highlights include Fiona Shaw's Winnie in "Happy Days," Derek Jacobi's Lear, Jonathan Pryce in "The Caretaker," and Chiwetel Ejiofor's Othello at the Donmar. Richard's criticism has been published in The Sondheim Review.

Not The Messiah (He’s A Very Naughty Boy) Show Info


Directed by Ted Sperling (conductor and director)

Cast includes Victoria Clark, William Ferguson, Eric Idle, Marc Kudisch, Lynne Marie Rosenberg, Lauren Worsham, the Collegiate Chorale, Orchestra of St. Luke's, members of New York Metro Pipe Band

Original Music Eric Idle and John Du Prez

Link http://collegiatechorale.org/performances/not-the-messiah

Running Time 1 hr, 45 min (with one intermission)

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