Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Monty Python: Older, Fatter, But Still Funny As F***

Last weekend, on Sunday, July 20th, my wife and I attended and laughed a lot at a live broadcast of “Monty Python Live (Mostly),” featuring the legendary British comedy group’s final performance ever (or so they claim) before a sold-out audience of 15,000 at The O₂ Arena in London, England.

The event, the last of a 10 show run, also sold-out at our venue, North Hills 14 in Raleigh, N.C., and from what I hear, at many of the 2,000 theaters around the globe that carried the broadcast, indeed proof that Python still has powerful pull even at this late date.

Despite some annoying sound glitches at the beginning, it was a hilarious delight seeing the surviving members - John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin – on stage together for the first time since their Hollywood Bowl concerts in 1980, energetically perform a revue of such classics as “Nudge, Nudge,” “Spam,” “Argument Clinic,” “Parrot Sketch,” “The Lumberjack Song,” and, of course, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” on a massive set with an orchestra (conducted by longtime Python collaborator John Du Prez) a couple dozen dancers, giant video screens, and, at one point, during the “Every Sperm is Sacred” number, candy-striped penis-shaped cannons that spewed confetti all over the audience.

The show’s tagline “One Down, Five to Go,” refers to the sad fact that sixth member Graham Chapman died in 1989, but Chapman’s presence was felt throughout the three hour program in the form of footage mostly from their classic BBC program Monty Python’s Flying Circus used to link the live segments and songs, and in lines like “He’s gone to join Dr. Chapman” added to “Parrot Sketch” with the audience’s roaring approval.

Much of the material presented was similar to that immortalized in the 1982 concert film MONTY PYTHON LIVE AT THE HOLLYWOOD BOWL – including the use of the filmed “Silly Olympics” and “The Philosophers’ Football Match” bits from the rare German episodes of Flying Circus – but there were several routines from their last motion picture, MONTY PYTHON’S THE MEANING OF LIFE, that had never been publicly performed before.

Those included an expanded version of “The Penis Song” sung by a cheeky as can be Idle, the aforementioned “Every Sperm is Sacred,” “Galaxy Song,” which is capped off by filmed cameos by physicists Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking (an audience shot afterwards showed Hawking in attendance), and “Christmas in Heaven,” which begins with an excerpt of Chapman singing from the original film.

Sketches that I was pleasantly surprised to see: “Vocational Guidance Counselor,” “Anne Elk's Theory on Brontosauruses,” and “Protestants Can Use Condoms” (also from THE MEANING OF LIFE).

I was also elated that actress Carol Cleveland, who’s been there since the beginning appearing on Flying Circus as well as all of the Python’s movies and stage shows, was there to reprise her pivotal parts. Guest appearances by Eddie Izzard, Mike Myers, and Warwick Davis helped liven things up as well.

Since I, and most watching, knew every line, it was funniest when the Pythons went off book. While quips about Palin’s “boring” travel shows, and Cleese’s multiple marriages were scripted, Cleese’s asides about bad reviews in the Daily Mail in the midst of the “Parrot Sketch”/ “Cheese Shop” mash-up apparently weren’t planned as they amusingly sidetracked, yet still didn’t sabotage Palin’s quick on his feet performance.

Having disliked many previous repackagings of Python, such as Idles’s musicals “Spamalot,” and “He’s Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy),” and the animated biodoc of Chapman: A LIAR’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY, I was so happy that “Monty Python Live (Mostly)” was a cringe free 45th anniversary celebration as well as a fitting send-off to the greatest, most influential comedy group of all time.

Older, fatter, but still funny as fuck, the Pythons put on a Hell of a last performance that I’ll definitely purchase when it inevitably gets a Blu ray/DVD release, with hope later in the year.

For those who can’t wait, however, “Monty Python Live (Mostly)” will be re-broadcast at many theaters on Wednesday, July 23rd and Thursday, July 24th. Click here for more info.

More later...

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