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'Not the Messiah (He's a Very Naughty Boy)' - Merry Oratorio for the Holiday (or Any) Season

Eric Idle, Victoria Clark, William Ferguson, Lauren Worsham, and Marc Kudisch in Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy)
(©Erin Baiano)

The holiday season in New York got a lot merrier earlier this week with the Collegiate Chorale’s two-night presentation of Eric Idle and John Du Prez’s oratorio Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) at Carnegie Hall.

Based on the Monty Python movie The Life of Brian, this nearly sung-through piece provokes glee on multiple levesl, starting with its story (pretty much known to everyone). It’s all about a guy who was born in the next stall over from Jesus, and who finds himself taken as the Messiah. Of course, he’s just a regular Joe.

Musically, Not the Messiah draws on just about every imaginable style to joyous effect. As an oratorio, there are classical stretches, but the show has doo-wop, Latin, gospel, and operetta-like numbers. Impressively, the diversity of the score never jars, but rather it coheres as part of one larger joke. One reason for the unity that audiences sensed during the two performances at Carnegie Hall was the expert work of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s and the Chorale, both of which, thanks to Ted Sperling’s fine direction and conducting, traversed the wide-ranging sounds with finesse.

The lyrics for Not the Messiah, too, contain a merry assortment of jokes. Burning bushes flee from the White House in one number. In another, the writers manage to reference Jimmy Webb’s “MacArthur Park” and “The Rain in Spain” from Lerner and Loewe’s My Fair Lady.

At the center of the performances were four talented singers, who reveled in both the music’s serious side and its more whimsical nature. From the world of opera, William Ferguson demonstrated that his lustrous voice could be ably and beautifully put to use for pop sounds, and he seemed to delight in playing the hapless Brian.

From Broadway, the performances boasted Victoria Clark, who, brought a comic earthiness to her portrayal of Brian’s mother and sounded sublime as her voice soared along with melodies. Lauren Worsham’s soprano was equally at ease with the high trills---and low comedy---of the piece, and Marc Kudisch, a reliable bass (base?) comic in shows ranging from 9 to 5 to Thoroughly Modern Millie, proved particularly funny as a couple of authority figures Brian encounters on his journeys.

The fifth principal for the show was “Baritone-ish” Idle, who, unremarkably, provoked gales of laughter as the show’s narrator, and in a host of secondary roles. In the presence of the more serious voices assembled for the show he has written with Du Prez, Idle also acquitted himself admirably in his vocals. And once the show had ended on Tuesday evening, theatergoers could warm themselves against a chilly, rainy night by the glow that had been cast by Not the Messiah.

---- Andy Propst

For more information about the Collegiate Chorale, visit .

2009 performance of Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) offered at London’s Royal Albert Hall was recorded and can be ordered as a disc-on-demand from Amazon.com. This reviewer hopes that it will be complemented by a release of the American version in the very near future.