|Eric Idle, Victoria Clark, William Ferguson, Lauren Worsham and Marc Kudish|
photo by Erin Baiano
“Tis the season to be jolly... and jolly we were Monday night at Carnegie Hall when the Collegiate Chorale presented the New York premiere of NOT THE MESSIAH (He’s a Very Naughty Boy). Inspired by Monty Python’s The Life of Brian and written by Eric Idle and John Du Prez, the work can be taken as a parody of the life of Jesus, in the form of an oratorio. But what an oratorio! We lost count of how many different styles of music we heard—mariachi, flamenco, country, Doo-wop, spirituals and a quartet of bagpipers, members of New York Metro Pipe Band.
Not only is it the season for jollity but it also seems to be the week for parody and gender bending. Not only have we enjoyed the parodies of Christmas songs brought to us by New York Festival of Song (see prior review) but also the parody of ballet brought to us by Les Ballets Trocadero de Monte Carlo in which men get on point and get us to giggle over every classical ballet trope.
In order to create effective parody one must have great affection for the thing one is satirizing. We are reminded of the late (but not forgotten) La Gran Scena Opera Company that parodied great divas with great affection.
In this case, the Mother of the non-Messiah is named Mandy and her baby, fathered by a Roman, is named Brian. Broadway star Victoria Clark, a mezzo-soprano, sang the role of Mandy with her usual pizazz and opera star William Ferguson lent his sweet tenor to the titular role. His love interest (Yes!) named Judith was winningly sung by soprano Lauren Worsham who slips into operatic roles as easily as she does into cabaret and Broadway. Ms. Worsham and Mr. Ferguson sang so beautifully together we mentally cast them as Candide and Cunegonde.
Eric Idle narrated and sang while successful contributions came from bass Marc Kudisch. The stage was filled with the splendid Orchestra of St. Luke’s backed up by the enormous Collegiate Chorale whose singing was so perfectly in unison and so imbued with fine diction that we understood every word. More credit to Ted Sperling, Director and Conductor!
Not so with much of the other singing which was “enhanced” by body mics rendering much of the very clever dialogue muffled. This was the only flaw in an otherwise sensational evening of broad satire and belly laughs. Happily, Mr. Ferguson and Ms. Worsham managed to be understood. When lyrics are that clever we want to hear every word. Titles would have been welcome.
In “We Love Sheep”, Lynne Marie Rosenberg came onstage with three very realistic looking sheep who opened their mouths to sing along, creating an unparalleled moment of glee.
Mr. Ferguson’s solo “I Want to Change the World” was incredibly moving and Mr. Idle’s “I Want to Be a Girl” was incredibly hilarious. Mr. Kudish had a very funny song “What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us”, a good satire of colonialism.
Brian wants freedom from Roman rule and peace for his people; he joins The People’s Front of Judea and meets Judith. They are caught in flagrante delicto by his mother. Brian is just a very naughty boy, or so says his mother. Judith sings the lovely “You’re the One”. The people are convinced he is the Messiah. He denies it. They insist. They find his sandal and, in a Cinderella moment, track him down. Mr. Kudish was particularly funny in “Hail to the Shoe”.
Nothing is sacred to Monty Python nor to Mr. Idle and Mr. Du Prez. Even the crucifixion becomes an object for laughter. Mr. Idle portrays a poor guy who gets crucified every morning and taken down every night. The closing song was “Always Look on the Bright Side”.
(c) meche kroop