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In Review > Concerts and Recitals

  Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) 

NEW YORK CITY
Ted Sperling & The Collegiate Chorale, Orchestra of St. Luke's | Carnegie Hall
12/15/14

The music of Handel’s Messiah echoes throughout New York City in December, creating a traditional, warmly predictable soundscape for the holiday season. This year, the comfortable din was interrupted by the refreshing raucous of Eric Idle and John Du Prez’s Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy). The oratorio buffo, based on the 1979 Monty Python film Life of Brian, received its New York City premiere at Carnegie Hall’s Stern Auditorium on Monday, December 15 with Ted Sperling conducting The Collegiate Chorale and Orchestra of St. Luke’s. 

The title character in Life of Brian, Brian Cohen, is born in the manger next to Jesus Christ’s. A naïve and hormonal young man, he joins the People’s Front of Judea to combat Roman oppression, falls in love with the rebel Judith and is eventually mistaken for the Messiah, leading to his crucifixion. The idea to turn Life of Brian into Not the Messiah came to Eric Idle after Peter Oundjian, his cousin and the principal conductor of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, suggested that they collaborate on a piece to attract new audiences to classical music. With a score by John Du Prez (who also co-composed the Broadway hit Spamalot) the mock oratorio premiered at the Luminato Festival in 2007. Shortly thereafter, Not the Messiah had its American premiere at the Caramoor Festival, also with The Collegiate Chorale and Orchestra of St. Luke’s. 

The score is a sensationally entertaining mix of classical music with flavors of Handel, Shostakovich, Mozart and Orff simmering in the same pot as ‘60s doowop, gospel and country and served with Du Prez’s energetic and lush orchestrations. A notable nod to Handel’s Messiah is “We Love Sheep,” a fun play on the chorus “All we like sheep,” complete with a sheep puppet that trotted on stage for the occasion and joined The Collegiate Chorale in song.

Tenor William Ferguson not only looked the role of the doe-eyed Brian, he also sang with a flexible sound that could rang with operatic power and belted out Brian’s soulful final song with abandon. As his mother Mandy, Broadway star Victoria Clark combined playfulness and spontaneity with an even, burnished mezzo. Her fellow Broadway veteran Marc Kudisch anchored the quartet of soloists with a booming baritone and imposing, goofy characterizations of several smaller characters. The quartet was threaded together by the endlessly versatile, effortlessly comedic soprano Lauren Worsham who in addition to active careers in opera and on Broadway, fronts an indie-pop band, Sky-Pony.

Eric Idle himself lent his talents as an actor, comic, basso buffo and, yes, guitar and harmonica player, narrating the story and leading the company in “The Lumberjack Song” and “Always Look On The Bright Side.” If his presence attracted some new faces to the packed Stern Auditorium, then the magnificent and committed performances by The Collegiate Chorale and Orchestra of St. Luke’s will certainly bring them back. spacer 

STEVEN JUDE TIETJEN

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