Review / Splendid musicians ‘wow’ with humour and fun

Music / “Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy)”, Canberra Choral Society and National Capital Orchestra, Llewellyn Hall, June 2. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE

WELL, I had a wow of a time! When you’ve got splendid musicians, eminently approachable music, soloists very much in character, and lots of silly nonsense and humour, you can’t but have enormous fun.

The collaboration between Eric Idle and John Du Prez has produced a comic oratorio, based on the Monty Python film “Life of Brian”, that has the audience laughing, clapping and singing along, abandoning any inhibitions. Idle says the work is “modelled on the Messiah by Handel”, but any similarity, apart perhaps from songs like “We Like Sheep” (not as in “gone astray”, but more like “We Love Sheep”), or “Hail to the Shoe” (rather than “Hallelujah!”), any similarity to Handel is likely deliberately coincidental.  But I did feel the audience should have stood during the latter.

Tobias Cole, as Mrs Betty Parkinson, sang in an uncommon (for him) “baritone-ish” voice (as Idle puts it for himself). But Cole’s star performance of the night was a take-off of Bob Dylan in “Individuals”, complete with guitar, harmonica, and the iconic dark glasses. Just like the real thing, whose voice has been likened to “Shredded Wheat” with a “shout and fall schema”, Cole rendered barely a single word comprehensible. Even the 60-plus voice choir successfully gave the auidence 60-plus Dylans, all at once.

Soprano Demi Smith, playing Judith, and tenor Nick Begbie, playing Brian, sang a positively sensual “Amourdeus”, “laying down together upon a mattress” – well, not actually, but the song must surely be rated MA15+!

David Pearson’s rich, resonant, bass voice was on the one hand questioning “What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us?” and on the other, donning a Roman centurion helmet for “Arrested”.

Then there was Mandy, Brian’s mother, played by soprano, Louise Page. She was cast perfectly in this role and was hilarious from beginning to end, her strong, engaging voice delighting the audience, especially when she screeched at the multitude (the choir) more than once to “shut up!”, pronouncing that Brian was not the Messiah and that he was a very naughty boy. Well, she must have been right; he was crucified after all.

Providing the foundation for all the mayhem was the Canberra Choral Society and the National Capital Orchestra, all under the baton of Leonard Weiss.

Weiss was relaxed, enjoying himself immensely; his lovely, fluid conducting produced some of the best and most expressive sounds I have yet heard from the NCO. The balance he achieved between the large orchestra, the choir and the soloists was nothing short of exquisite.

The choir, too, was superb, fully immersing themselves into the spirit of the work, achieving some rich harmonies, beautiful tones and fine balance.

Of course, at the end, the convicted and sentenced Brian and his criminal mates are ticked off the list and sent for their crosses. But, really, “life’s a piece of s**t, when you look at it”, so we must “always look on the bright side of life”.

A standing ovation was the audience’s immediate reaction to a brilliant performance by this troupe of amazing Canberra musicians. In response, Tobias Cole gave a very Eric Idle-esque “The Galaxy Song”, demanding at the end that the audience get up again, and then a reprise of “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” with the smiling and satisfied audience in full voice, and swaying with arms in the air.

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