Arts / The silly songs of a very naughty boy

The “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” singalong from “The Life of Brian” (1979).

“THERE’S a lot of comedy in the songs I choose, but I haven’t done much in big shows,” says singer Louise Page.

That’s about to change when she switches from soprano to mezzo to play the mother of Brian in the coming concert version of “Not the Messiah… He’s a Very Naughty Boy.”

The full Canberra Choral Society will join the National Capital Orchestra on stage, where the Idea of North’s tenor Nick Begbie will play Brian alongside an almost heavenly line-up of soloists – Tobias Cole, Demi Smith, David Pearson and Louise Page. It’s directed by former Canberran Ylaria Rogers and conducted by Leonard Weiss.

For readers ignorant of Monty Python, “Not the Messiah” is a spoof of Handel’s “Messiah” created by Eric Idle and “Spamalot” composer John Du Prez in 2007 and based on the 1979 religious satire, “The Life of Brian”. Eric Idle once described it as “baroque ‘n’ roll”.

It features numbers such as “We Love Sheep” (Handel followers will get the reference), “Brian’s Dream”, “What Have the Romans Ever Done for Us?”, “Hail to the Shoe!” (a Bob Dylan take-off) and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”, where the audience sings along.

Louise Page sings with the National Capital Orchestra. Photo by Peter Hislop

It’s not at all what Page is used to.

“I’m doing something odd, I’m singing as a mezzo… it’s very nice and it sits well,” Page tells “CityNews”.

“But I’m in a quandary during rehearsals… I’m playing the mother of Brian, meaning I’m a woman playing a man playing a woman.

Her fellow soloists are a bit confused, too, as they work out who their characters actually are but reports are that everyone is having a rollicking time rehearsing.

“My generation grew up with the ‘Life of Brian’ and now my kids know it all, too,” Page says, noting that the Americans didn’t “get” Python until the ’90s and now they’re right into it.

Recalling the furore she says: “In the late ’70s when the film came out, I was singing in the St Georges Cathedral Choir in Perth… our dean, bless him, went to see it before he commented and told us it was wonderful and that there was no problem.

“It begins like a classic oratorio but more and sillier Monty Python-type things keep coming in. It’s very uplifting and musically very funny, with a lot of in-jokes,” Page says.

Helping them all sort out this musical mayhem is Ylaria Rogers, who will be back again directing “Shrek the Musical” for Free Rain Theatre very soon.

Director Ylaria Rogers.

Rogers finished her studies at the Australian Institute of Music in 2013 then plunged into professional assistant directing jobs in Melbourne before founding Freefall Productions with another former Canberran, Derek Walker. She still acts, playing Fran in Philo’s “Strictly Ballroom” last year and “Proof”, seen this year at The Q.

While she and conductor Weiss were workshopping the play “Camelia” at The Street Theatre in November with Tobias Cole, Weiss told her he needed an extra hand and she was up for it.

“I’m really more of a dramaturg, dealing with the text, accents and delivery of characters and making sure they’re going in the right way,” she says.

“The Monty Python actors themselves are so iconic that there’s the question of how to stay true to them and ‘own’ the roles.”

There have been tricky moments, exemplified in the song, “I Want to Be a Girl” sung by members of the Judean People’s Front.

“There is a risk of offending people, because some people don’t appreciate religious questions put to satirical use,” but that ’70s take on being a woman, she believes, is just as relevant these days.

“I loved Monty Python… all of those comedians really changed the way comedy is. It’s very funny – if that’s your kind of thing.”

“Not the Messiah… He’s a Very Naughty Boy”, Llewellyn Hall, 7.30pm, Saturday, June 2. Bookings to premier.ticketek.com.au

 

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