Jul 3, 2007

Opera and Mock-Oratorio

Not seeing as much theatre as I once did in my theatre critic days. But I did catch Tom Rowan's The Second Tosca at 45th Street Theatre (just closed, alas), which was quite a fine little opera-world backstager, with the requisite share of twists and surprises, double-edged but passion-dipped tributes to the opera world and its discontents, inside jokes, and sexual tension. Rachel DeBenedet and Vivian Reed were exceptionally fine, and as far as I know believable, as semi-dueling divas. It deserves a life in regional and smaller theatres--I could see it at the Colony Theatre in Burbank, or International City Theatre in Long Beach, in a heartbeat (just to name two houses I know well from of old).

Over the weekend I trained it up to the impossibly idyllic Caramoor music venue for the U.S. premiere of Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy, a mock-oratorio by Eric Idle and John Du Prez based on the Monty Python film The Life of Brian. Idle narrated, acted, and sang some key passages, but for the most part handed over singing duties to a game cast, including Christopher Sieber, Jean Stilwell, Shannon Mercer, and Theodore Baerg. (The conductor and Caramoor music director, Michael Oundjian, happens to be Idle's cousin, and he led the Orchestra of St. Luke's and the chorus with vigor.) I'm happy to report that Idle is still on his game as an inspired goofer, even if his metier now tends more to English music-hall winking than Orton-esque subversion; The oratorio included musical parodies of Bach and Handel, a doo-wop setting of "Woe Woe Woe," a Bernstein-ish cha-cha, and a few tinkly arena-pop power ballads. The scene stealers were a quartet of gloriously incongruous bagpipers and Idle's own merciless parody of Bob Dylan, complete with out-of-tune harmonica, guitar, and slurred vocals. The high points of the Brian-based comedy had to be a giddy sex duet between Sieber and Mercer (called "Amourdeus") and the Gilbert-and-Sullivan-worthy musicalization of the film's most pricelessly contrarian scene, "What Have the Romans Done for Us?" Expect it to show up at pops concerts, if not on Broadway.

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