And There Will Never Be Anything Else That’s So Completely Different…

Today marked the final time the remaining Monty Python members will EVER perform on stage together.  Let that sink in for a minute.  While its true it has been quite a long time since the remaining five have actually done anything together on the same stage (“Spamalot” not withstanding, they didn’t actually perform that, and in my humble opinion it was a case of being a whole which was less than its parts), there was always hope that some day they would get back together one last time.  Well they did and this was it.  For the last three weeks MikeTerry JTerry GEric and John trod across the boards in London’s O2 Arena to sold out audiences reliving one last time what amounted to a greatest hits compilation from the show, movie and albums (five of the original six since Graham Chapman died in 1989; the show is sub-titled “One Down, Five to Go’“).  Of course I wanted to be there for at least one of these shows, but responsibilities at home and a not insignificant health issue kept me from even thinking about it.  

But, I was able to do the next best thing: a live stream of the event at a local theater.

Let me start by saying I had mixed emotions on attending this “digital” event in a movie theater since I am totally against the digitization of film, and in part my gripes about it were born out in the technical glitches we experienced at the start, but more on that in a minute.

The show was scheduled to begin at 2:30PM EST, which means the real show time was 7:30PM London time.  I had purchased my tickets weeks ago when the show was first announced and arrived at the theater at 1:30, a full hour early expecting there to be a large crowd waiting in line for the doors to open.  What I actually found was that I was able to go ahead into the theater and that there were only two older ladies in there.  I was therefore able to perch on the front of row of the middle section which means no one was in front of me (well, the whole front section was in fact in front of me but they were several feet ahead so there was nothing in my way).  And instead of something clever, or even mundane, facing us on the screen we were greeted with a blankish screen until about 20 minutes before the show.

People did start filtering in around 2:00 and by showtime the place was mostly packed.  It was supposed to be a sold-out show but I know at least one seat was open (my second ticket), and I think I saw a few open seats spread around too.  When the pre-show did start it was several minutes of ads by the promoter (Fathom) of the event and ads for digital streams of Broadway shows (“Chicago”, ” Matilda”, “Porgy and Bess”, “From Here to Eternity The Musical”, other “event” shows (“National Drum Corp Competition (?) and “Mystery Science Theater 3000”) and Opera streamed from the Met.  

Finally some Python related nonsense arrived for the last 15 or so minutes, but even this was kind of lame, and the sound started breaking up, a sign of things to come with this digital miracle.   The main items were Python related trivia, which of course the “I-Know-More-About-Python-Than-Kim-‘Howard’-Johnson” types would say the answer to, usual a few seconds after a real die-hard would have known the answer, and sometimes even incorrectly (and I doubt a single one of them could tell me who Kim “Howard” Johnson is).  Then we were graced with some songs from the Python albums and sure enough the majority of people reacted like they had never heard of them before…and yet still considered themselves to be Pythons.

<short non-Python digression>

I don’t mean to sound like a snob, but then again I guess I am.  If I can digress from Python for a moment, I want to take this opportunity to spell out my thoughts on this by using a scene from the film “Hi Fidelity”:

Louis: You guys are snobs. 
Dick: No, we’re not. 
Louis: Yeah, seriously, you’re totally elitist. You feel like the unappreciated scholars, so you shit onto people who know lesser than you. 
Rob, Barry, Dick: No! 
Louis: Which is everybody… 
Rob, Barry, Dick: Yeah… 
Louis: That’s so sad.

So you see yes I am and so are they, if you follow my logic.
</end digression>

No, back to the show.  The sound was continually cutting out during the trivia and the songs, but I was hoping that since this was obviously pre-tapped (taped and yet in a theater…ugh!) that once the “live” portion of the show started it would get better…wait for it…

So that we wouldn’t be eaten up with suspense they were good enough to put a countdown timer on the screen as to the exact second the show would start, and sure enough, right on time the show began…and the theater manager came in to announce that they were working on the sound but that it was live event and it appeared to be out of their control.  Remember when you went to a movie and sometimes the film itself would break?  And guess what happened next?  The projectionist, that “guy” up there in booth, would quickly splice it back together and the show would go on.  Try doing that when the digital files get corrupted or you live stream from the UK gets too much latency.  You’re bugger matey! Which, in effect, is what said manager was trying to tell us.  And then, right as the Pythons themselves arrived on stage, er screen, the sound DIED completely…but only for about five seconds, after which miraculously there were no further issues with the sound. The only further slight technical issue, and this is absolutely with the theater we were at, was they failed to dim the lights for about the first five minutes until I’m sure one of my fellow Pythons went out and said something.  I get the feeling that Regal Tallahassee is still learning how to do these global broadcast things.

So now we are into the show.  I won’t do a play by play or even give too much away, although The Telegraph does have a good run down of the first show, which pretty much was the same line up as today.  If you’re reading this in time you still have two more chances to see it on Wednesday (July 23) and Thursday (July 24) or I’m sure it will be hocked on DVD and/or Blu-Ray within the hour.  But I will linger on a few high points.

The first skit of the show was a modern, and oh so appropriate riff on the age-old “Four Yorkshireman” (and I mean old, this skit actually predates Python and was co-written by Tim Brooke-Taylor for “At Last the 1948 Show”).  The only real modification to the skit, and what made it even more spot-on, was it started out thusly:

“Who’d have thought 40 years ago we’d all be sitting here doing Monty Python?”  

Who indeed!  Remember the BBC didn’t even watch the first several shows, which allowed the boys to get away with far more than they should have and thus set the precedent for, well the next 45 years of comedy.
A Penguin on the TV…BURMA! 
Please don’t tell me you DIDN”T expect The Spanish Inquisition!

Several skits and song and dance numbers follow which include the full orchestra (led by John Du Prez) and a 20 piece dance group.  And then we arrived at “The Lumberjack Song“, which was the first time I actually teared up (yes, damn it, I cried at a Python show, so go bugger yourself!)  It wasn’t the best version I’d seen but remembering it was THE LAST TIME how could one not get a bit worked up?

I also nearly teared up during “The Argument Clinic” and “Crunchy Frog” since these were skits that me and the guys performed back in college ourselves (along with “The Lumberjack Song” and “Jape”).  I did not, however, even remotely tear up for the “Every Sperm is Sacred” routine which included a very Ken Russell-esque  addition of penis-shaped cannon which, yep, spewed…well just watch the DVD.

There was a half hour intermission (which they provided a count down for as well) and then the second half of the show.  The Spam skit was turned into “Spam Lake” and then later the skit itself, which then morphed into “The Dead Parrot” sketch which in turn morphed into “The Cheese Shop” which in turn morphed into utter mayhem when Cleese and Palin just let it go!  It was hard to tell if Cleese was actually forgetting some of his lines (rumor is he did on the first night), or if he was just having fun, and they even managed to invoke the spirit of Dr Chapman and give a big thumbs up to him during the skit. The skit finally came to what very well may have been an unscripted end with Palin asking the famous “Do you want to come up to my place?”     line, in which Cleese responds with “I thought you’d never ask!” and they leave the stage arm in arm (hold back those damn tears, damn it!).

I also have to mention “The Ministry of Silly Walks”, which was included, sort of, and answered my (rather self-interested) question of how can they still do the Silly Walk sketch with a 74 year old man with TWO HIP REPLACEMENTS?  Well, turns out the way to do it is turn it into a song and dance routine with 20 or so twenty-somethings doing it for him!  So I guess I need to find some agile millennials to my work for me…oh wait, never mind.

The show rounded out with an appearance by Graham Chapman himself (courtesy of “Meaning of Life”) who opened the final number “Christmas in Heaven”, which ended the show…only to be followed by an onscreen announcement and further countdown of two minutes to the totally spontaneous encore!

And what, you may ask, was the encore?  What could it possibly be?  What is the one remaining song that just had to be the last thing the Pythons ever do on stage together?  “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” of course!  And yes, more tears from yours truly.  And then it was over.  The dancers took a final bow and left the stage,  Carol Cleveland took a final bow and left the stage, and then there were the five, and 45 years after they first carpet bombed their way into popular culture, they took one final a bow and left the stage…and promptly told us to PISS OFF!  (actually there was a rather touching Graham Chapman memorial and a Monty Python memorial as well, THEN they told us to PISS OFF!).

…but of course just because the show is over and the BBC and copyright notice is shown doesn’t mean the show is fully over.  There apparently is another Python-related film in the works called “Absolutely Anything”; mind you not an official Python film like “Life of Brian” or “Meaning of Life”, but one in which all but one (Eric Idle) of the living Python’s will be involved, not unlike “Brazil” or “Jabberwocky” or “Time Bandits”, except of course those only had one or two Pythons, not 80% of them (or 66% counting Graham Chapman who couldn’t participate due to contractual obligations in the hereafter).  I’m not sure why Eric Idle chose not to participate since it seems that Terry J, who wrote and is behind the whole thing, originally wanted him to, except that Idle has been the driving force behind that Python work for twenty years so maybe he thinks its his job to mount these things…

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