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Monday, July 21, 2014

And now for something completely fan-tastic: Monty Python Live (mostly)

Posted by on Mon, Jul 21, 2014 at 5:15 PM

click to enlarge monty-python-320x474-en.jpg
Monty Python Live (mostly)
Rebroadcasts on July 23 and 24, 7:30 p.m.
Regal Brier Creek Stadium 14, Regal North Hills Stadium 14, Regal Crossroads 20
★★★ (general public)
★★★★ ½ stars (Monty Python fans)


The sound cut out a minute into the opening number of Sunday’s real-time worldwide broadcast of Monty Python Live (mostly), the elaborate London stage show celebrating the reunion of the legendary comedy troupe. The sold-out crowd at the Brier Creek movie theater let loose a collective groan of frustration as an epic orchestration of “Sit on My Face” played out silently on the screen. “Oh come on,” someone in the audience yelled after a beat, “everybody sing! We all know the words!”

Indeed, you wouldn’t have been at this special live-streaming of Monty Python’s final appearance together unless you were a hardcore fan and knew all the words to the Dead Parrot sketch, the Argument sketch or the Penguin sketch, or could sing the lyrics to ditties such as “The Lumberjack Song” and “The Philosopher’s Drinking Song” (all of which made appearances during the three-hour-with-intermission production).

While the Pythons have been honest about their reason for staging the 10-night London event—“Of course it’s for the fucking money!” said Eric Idle in a recent Newsweek interview—fan service was clearly the order of the day. Not only were favorite skits trundled out, the five surviving members (Eric Idle, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam) paid homage to the late Graham Chapman and fêted Carol Cleveland, who appeared in a majority of the BBC episodes of Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Long considered an honorary member of the troupe, Cleveland was frequently placed center stage during Live (mostly) even though she had little to do.

The six members of the (mostly) British group weren’t known for their live comedy: Their fame came from carefully polished absurdity, tightly edited wordplay and non-sequitur satire that simultaneously embraced high-concept and lowbrow. On stage, the Pythons got around this with a variety-show approach: big dance numbers, celebrity appearances and audience sing-alongs. A cheat? Hardly. Let’s just say you haven’t heard “The Penis Song” until you see it performed with a full orchestra, a chorus line and two giant penis cannons spewing foam over the audience in London’s O2 arena.

All of this vaudevillian mayhem was interspersed with snippets of Gilliam’s classic animations and clips of favorite skits from the TV show. This not only gave the cast and crew time to change costumes and sets, it was a reminder of why Monty Python was so influential in the first place.

Live (mostly) only stumbled a few times. Most of the celebrity appearances fell flat, with the exception of a brilliant cameo by Stephen Hawking(!), and the Pythons themselves sometimes got lost trying to remember their old material. John Cleese in particular was less interested in giving rote dissertations of fan favorites than trying to crack up his fellow troupe members. In the end, though, this was far more entertaining than hearing a perfect rendition of the Dead Parrot sketch for the 500th time. That’s what YouTube is for. And if this was truly the last time Monty Python ever performs together, it was better to see them off as old friends trying to make each other laugh.

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