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Monty Python Live (Mostly)!

December 8th, 2014

This past summer, the five surviving members of Monty Python reunited for a series of ten live shows at the 02 in London.  The final show, from July 20th, was recorded and recently released on blu-ray.  I can’t believe how phenomenal Monty Python Live (Mostly): One Down Five To Go is!

Right from the beginning I knew this was going to be something special.  First, the initial full sketch is The Four Yorkshiremen, which is one of my absolute favorite Monty Python sketches.  This isn’t one of their most famous sketches, but it’s a perfect choice to begin this reunion program — four old men grousing about the days of their youth.  I love that they chose this sketch.  This is immediately followed by a rendition of The Penis Song, which has been expanded into an elaborate song-and-dance number.  Watching the thirty-some dancers mime incredibly raunchy behavior made me laugh and laugh, and I knew we were in for something special.

This show isn’t just the five guys performing sketches.  Monty Python Live (Mostly) is a very elaborate stage show, with huge musical numbers and an impressive array of different sets and costumes (for all the different sketches), lots of singing and dancing, and a great use of old video material (projected on a huge screen above the stage).  Turning some Monty Python sketches into big musical numbers could have been absolutely awful, but the way this show has been put together is extremely clever.  And the whole thing is thick with the usual Monty Python cheekiness.

Where to begin?  I mentioned the musical numbers, but don’t fear, the focus of the show is on the Monty Python gang (John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin) performing all of their classic sketches.  The guys are phenomenal, and seeing these brilliant entertainers together on stage again is a thrill.  OK, maybe they’re not as quick as they once were, and clearly Terry Jones had trouble memorizing his lines (you can see him reading his dialogue in sketches in which he has to deliver long lists of verbiage, such as the Crunchy Frog sketch), but even the rough edges remain very endearing.  There are some flubs (John Cleese losing his place at one point, Eric Idle’s moustache falling off in the “wink wink nudge nudge” sketch) but the guys are able to spin all these mis-steps into huge laughs.  And over-all, they each remain impressively nimble and in command on stage.  This is a LONG show, well over two hours.  It’d have been an impressive endurance test even for far younger performers!  The sketch selection is impressive — all of the great Monty Python sketches have been included.  I can’t really think of one great sketch that I was hoping for that didn’t appear in the show.

So what’s with that singing and dancing I mentioned before?  To keep the show moving (and, presumably, to let these old fellas catch their breath between sketches), many of the sketches weave in and out of musical numbers performed by a very talented group of singers & dancers.  These aren’t lame Oscars show quality performances.  These are very funny, very clever expansions of so many of the great Monty Python songs, including Sit On My Face, The Lumberjack Song, Every Sperm is Sacred, The Galaxy Song, Christmas in Heaven, and many more.  For each new song the performers appear in a new and different outlandish costume, and perform a dance number in a new style — of course, one perfectly suited to that particular song.  The choreography is very impressive, and it’s all thankfully done with the tongue-in-cheek spirit and raunchiness of all of Monty Python’s music.

There are also a lot of great video segments projected on the huge screen above the stage.  Several classic bits from the Flying Circus TV show are projected.  It’s not only great seeing some of those great old routines (that couldn’t be recreated in a performance on stage), but it’s also a great way for the late Graham Chapman to be a presence in the show.  We also get to see some great bits of Terry Gilliam animation.  This crazy animation was a not-to-be-overlooked critical component of the Flying Circus show, and I loved seeing how they worked that animation into the stage show.

Other great moments in the show:

Terry Gilliam vomiting during the Crunchy Frog sketch.

The choreography to Sit On My Face.

Eric Idle and Michael Palin bravely showing off their womens’ lingerie in the Poofy Judges sketch.

Professor Brian Cox & Stephen Hawking participating in an analysis of the lyrics to The Galaxy Song.

The Argument sketch.  Absolutely perfect.  And it climaxes with John Cleese shooting down a floating Terry Gilliam, whose entrails then disgorge down onto the stage.  Hilarious and amazing.

The combination of the Dead Parrot sketch and the Cheese Shop sketch.

There are so many other amazing moments in the show.  I loved pretty much every minute.  This is no lame cash-grab.  Monty Python Live (Mostly) is an elaborately produced, gloriously entertaining “greatest hits” parade.  If this is indeed the group’s final performance together, it’s a great way to finish.

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