Category Archives: Live Shows

Monty Python’s First Farewell Tour of Canada (1973)

“Monty Python’s First Farewell Tour of Canada”
From Toronto to Vancouver
4-20 June, 1973

As the Pythons’ U.K. shows were progressing in Spring 1973, it was proposed that the tour be extended to Canada, where the TV series was being broadcast by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. “Summer in Canada seemed exotic,” Eric Idle said in “Monty Python Live!” (the book about the Python’s live shows to 1980), “and the money was very tempting.”

On With The Show

It was the group’s first trip to North America, and their first taste of the continent’s Python fans. “When we got to [Toronto] airport we went through customs, and there was this huge cheer, hundreds of fans,” Idle said in “The Python Autobiography.” “We all looked behind us because we thought a rock ‘n’ roll group was coming in and it was us, they were waiting for us!”

John Cleese remembers the Canada tour as “a little chaotic”; the others remember the tour as the occasion when Cleese announced he did not want to do a fourth Python series, preferring his industrial films and the odd movie to the grind of a weekly TV show. He also begged off traveling with the group following the tour as they continued on to TV appearances in America.

“I flew up to Toronto, where they greeted me with the news that they were never going to work together again after this tour,” recalled U.S. publicity manager Nancy Lewis in “Monty Python Speaks.” “Here I’ve been knocking myself out trying to get them on the air … oh, wonderful. That’s good news!”

The group performed to boisterous fans in cities across Canada, including Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa (where, according to the Ottawa Citizen, a live duck was found to have “expired and gone to meet its maker” following the “Cocktail” sketch), Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg (where the entire front row was dressed as a caterpillar), Regina and Vancouver (where a PR stunt landed all the Pythons in a giant cage).

A slowdown by airline workers on strike caused some of the scenery to miss certain engagements, prompting last-minute changes in the rundown, and leaving the crew having to come up with a dead parrot in Calgary a few hours before the curtain went up.

Once the tour wrapped in Vancouver, the five Pythons who weren’t named Cleese traveled to San Francisco and Los Angeles, where they got their first taste of American media’s interest in the group – and disinterest. This was uncomfortably tested in their appearance before a befuddled audience on NBC’s “The Tonight Show,” guest-hosted by Joey Bishop. (“There was just a deadness,” said Nancy Lewis. “I was ready to slash my wrists!”) Their performance nonetheless would enter into legend, as all non-Johnny Carson-hosted episodes of the era were later wiped – lost to the ether.

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Monty Python’s First Farewell Tour (1973)

“Monty Python’s First Farewell Tour”
3-week tour of the UK, 30 shows in 13 cities
27 April – 24 May, 1973
 
 

Having cut their teeth in cabaret revues during their university days, the Pythons eagerly trod the boards again at the Lanchester Arts Festival, at Warwick University in Coventry – three sold-out midnight shows on 31 January-2 February 1971. These first Python stage performances became a template for later live shows, as the enthusiasm of the audiences in Coventry stirred interest from promoters to take the Pythons out on tour.

David Sherlock, Graham Chapman’s partner, said of the earliest stage performances in “The Pythons Autobiography”: “It was the first time they realized that people knew every word … if anyone forgets their lines there’s a whole front row who can prompt you immediately.”

On With The Show

In Spring 1973 the Pythons embarked on a three-week “First Farewell Tour,” taking in Southampton, Brighton, Cardiff, Oxford, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Manchester, Sunderland, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Leeds and Norwich. [Revenge for those regions outside London that didn’t get the BBC’s first broadcasts of the series!] The tour was put together by Tony Smith (manager for the rock group Genesis) and impresario Harvey Goldsmith.

Opening night – which included such standbys as “Llamas,” “Argument Clinic,” “Flower Arrangement,” “Nudge Nudge,” “Ken Shabby,” “Pet Shop,” “Custard Pie Lecture,” “Solo Wrestling” and “Eric the Half-a-Bee,” which was soon cut – suffered from sound problems and a disquieting audience during “Silly Walks.”

As John Cleese recalled in “The Pythons Autobiography”, “When we did the first stage show in Southampton, I did the ‘Ministry of Silly Walks’ and it was a complete flop. The audience watched, it was profoundly embarrassing and when I got off the stage I said to the others, ‘See? It’s not funny!’ Well, we did a deal. They said, ‘Do it tomorrow in Brighton, and if it doesn’t work you can cut it.’ And I did it the next night in Brighton and of course everyone laughed, and it’s been in the show ever since.”

The production also had to contend with a drunken Graham Chapman, who was on the road to full-fledged alcoholism as a means to settle his nervousness over performing. Over the course of the tour, Chapman missed entrances or lines, leaving the other Pythons to flail or cover for him.

The book “Monty Python Live!” also recounts how Chapman and Jones engaged in a duel of makeup, over whose Pepperpot could appear with the most ridiculous lipstick, as a challenge to get the other to “corpse” on stage. “It all spiraled out of control,” said Jones of the lipstick competition. The winner? Chapman, whose lipstick eventually circled his entire face.

The tour was a financial success, and – according to Tony Smith – “very refreshing – I didn’t have to get any hotel rooms repaired.”

About a week after the final show in Norwich, the group flew to Canada – where the TV series was being broadcast on the CBC – to bring “First Farewell Tour” to fans in the Provinces.

Read more at https://web.archive.org/web/20161106203708/http://www.montypython.com/liveshow_Monty%20Python’s%20First%20Farewell%20Tour%20(1973)/5#WhVZx9W2b89w0YuD.99

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Monty Python Live at Drury Lane! (1974)

“Monty Python Live at Drury Lane!”
London’s Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
26 February-23 March, 1974

Instead of the hardships and frivolity of touring, the Python’s West End stint meant they’d simply be commuting every night from home to the same stage where Lerner & Loewe’s “Camelot” had opened a decade earlier. “The Drury Lane run was the nearest most of us ever got to having a proper job,” said Terry Jones. “It was initially a nerve-wracking proposition, but at the same time it was somehow reassuring to find ourselves part of the ‘theatrical establishment’ even if it was an illusion.”

The show was such a success the initial two-week engagement at the 2,200-seat house was extended to four weeks.

On With The Show

With the Pantomime Princess Margaret watching from a box above the stage, and Eric Idle’s then-wife Lyn Ashley filling in for Carol Cleveland, the show included the “Silly Party Elections Special” sketch, in which Neil Innes’ impromptu rendition of “Climb Ev’ry Mountain” was a musical highlight (and consequently necessitating royalty payments from the show’s recording).

Other sketches included: Llamas, Gumby Flower Arrangement, Secret Service, Solo Wrestling, World Forum, Albatross/The Colonel, Nudge Nudge, Cocktail Bar, Travel Agency, Michael Miles Quiz Show, the Bruces, Argument Clinic, Four Yorkshiremen, Dead Parrot, “The Lumberjack Song,” and Innes’ “How Sweet to Be an Idiot.”

In “Monty Python Live!” (the book about the Python’s live shows to 1980), Idle recalled, “The hardest part of the show was having to host the hundreds of people who insisted on coming backstage afterwards to your dressing room demanding free drinks and a chance to stare at you changing.”

 

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Monty Python Live! (1976)

City Center Theater, New York
14 April – 2 May 1976

With Python’s tremendous success in the United States following the release of “Holy Grail” and the broadcast on PBS of the first three series of “Flying Circus,” it wasn’t long before they brought their stage show to America.

New York audiences, luminaries and press warmly welcomed the Pythons during their sold-out four-week engagement (as did New York thieves: John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Neil Innes, Carol Cleveland, and members of the crew were each victims of muggers, pickpockets or burglars during their stay).

“We were the toast of the town in New York, we were it,” Terry Gilliam said of the parties surrounding the show’s opening in “Monty Python Live!” (the book about the Python’s live shows to 1980). “Andy Warhol was there. I was in a daze, all these famous people smiling at you, I don’t know what to do I’m in a daze.”

On With The Show

Sketches in the New York revue included: Llamas; Gumby Flower Arranging; Solo Wrestling; World Forum; Albatross; Nudge, Nudge; Whizzo Chocolates; The Bruces’ “Philosophers Song”; Travel Agent; Camp Judges; “Blackmail”; Pet Shop; Four Yorkshiremen; Argument Clinic; “Death of Mary, Queen of Scots”; Church Police (its first appearance in a stage show); “The Lumberjack Song”; and Neil Innes’ “Short Blues,” “Protest Song” and “How Sweet to Be an Idiot.” “Cocktail Bar” was dropped, as was the “Michael Miles Game Show.”

“My goodness, that first night was an eye-opener,” Carol Cleveland recounted in “Monty Python Live.” “Here were all these people who seemed to know the sketches extremely well and they whooped and they wailed and they were dressed as Gumbys and all sorts of strange characters and we could hardly get a word out. We couldn’t hear ourselves. I’d never experienced anything like that. I don’t believe the guys had either and that was the first time I thought, ‘Wow, yes, we made it in America.'”

During the show’s run, guests invaded the choir of Mounties during the “Lumberjack Song,” including George Harrison and an inebriated Harry Nilsson (who wound up falling into the orchestra pit).

The visit to New York also marked a Python script meeting about their next film project. “Are we or are we not going to do a life of Christ?” Palin notes in his diary entry of 28 April 1976. Cleese suggests “The Gospel According to St. Brian” as a title, and they’re off and running.

See Also

“Monty Python Live at City Center” –  the album of the stage show.  This was recorded and manufactured in 10 days – soon enough so that the Pythons could autograph copies at an in-store appearance in Manhattan the day after their engagement ended.

An alternate recording, complete with John Cleese introducing the “glittering superstars” arriving at City Center (“I can see John Wayne, there, crouching down behind a fire hydrant – I’m sorry, it’s a huge bag of pretzels”), was aired on the syndicated FM radio program, “King Biscuit Flower Hour,” on 9 May, 1976.

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Live at the Hollywood Bowl (1980)

“Monty Python Live at the Hollywood Bowl”
Hollywood Bowl Amphitheatre, Los Angeles
26-29 September, 1980

The Pythons’ first West Coast stage shows, at the famed Hollywood Bowl, proved to be their biggest stage success yet. With seating for 8,000 crazed fans, it was the largest venue they had played up to that point.

On With The Show

“There was just something about performing at the Hollywood Bowl which I think tickled all of us,” said Michael Palin in “The Pythons Autobiography,” “because we were all brought up on LPs of people ‘Live at the Hollywood Bowl,’ whether it was Sinatra or Errol Garner or the big bands that played on the stage there. It was an iconic venue. And we said, ‘Yeah, okay, we’ll have a go.'”

The set list included: Llamas; Gumby Flower Arrangement; Conrad Poohs and His Dancing Teeth; Solo Wrestling; The Last Supper; Silly Olympics; World Forum;
Ministry of Silly Walks; Death of Mary Queen of Scots; Church Police; “The Bruces’ Philosophers Song”; Whizzo Chocolates; Travel Agent; Custard Pie Lecture; “Sit on My Face”; Camp Judges; Albatross; Nudge Nudge; Blackmail; German/Greek Philosophers’ Football Match; “Never Be Rude to an Arab”; Argument Clinic; “I’ve Got Two Legs”; Four Yorkshiremen; Dead Parrot; Little Red Riding Hood; “The Lumberjack Song”; and Neil Innes’ “I’m the Urban Spaceman,” “Protest Song,” and “How Sweet to Be an Idiot.”

“It was very much a Pythons fans’ audience,” said Michael Palin in “The Pythons Autobiography.” “Sometimes at the Hollywood Bowl the audience were there way before we were, coming in with lines, and we’d just try to finish a sketch.”

“It was kind of a party,” said Terry Jones,” because you sit in little boxes and everybody’d have their picnics out and everything like that and they’re all smoking. I had to go out through the audience for the ‘Albatross’ sketch, you know, and you went through all this marijuana smoke.”

“The shows were great fun, ’cause the crowds were huge, massive,” said Terry Gilliam in “Monty Python Live.” “We’d ad-lib to make the others corpse, entertaining ourselves.”

Even John Cleese had a good time, and was appreciative that when he lost track of his lines in “Dead Parrot,” thanks to the ad-libs of the “treacherous” Michael Palin, people in the audience prompted him: “Doing it for four nights, balmy weather, wonderful crowds, [and] I understood the rock concert thing then … I enjoyed every minute of it, and had a wonderful time.”

“The audience were totally swept away,” publicity manager Nancy Lewis said in “Monty Python Live.” “It was the way Americans completely fell in love with The Beatles the first time they saw them. I think this was the comedy equivalent.”

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Monty Python’s Spamalot (from 2005)

“Monty Python’s Spamalot”
Director: Mike Nichols
Book and lyrics: Eric Idle
Music: John Du Prez and Eric Idle
New York Premiere: Schubert Theatre, 17 March 2005 (Opening Night) through 11 January 2009.
London Premiere: Palace Theatre, 17 October 2006 (Opening Night) through 3 January 2009.

“Lovingly ripped off” from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” this musical recreates scenes from the beloved 1975 film while skewering Broadway tropes, in a cheeky piece of music hall frivolity that copped three Tony Awards and went on to tremendous success in productions around the world.

On With The Show

In the 1980s Eric Idle pitched the idea of a stage musical based on the 1968 classic “The Producers” to that film’s director, Mel Brooks, who at the time said he wanted to concentrate on motion pictures. [Brooks would eventually bring “The Producers” to Broadway, where it won 12 Tonys.] But Idle was bitten by the bug, and looked into creating a stage version of Python when the group vetoed other reunion collaborations in the 1980s and ’90s.

“The history of post-Python projects,” Idle told New York Magazine, “has been like middle-age courtship – fraught with frustration, Byzantine negotiations, hot flashes, disappointing flurries of enthusiasm usually ending in stalemate, and droopy disappointment.”

He also wanted to bring back musical-comedy to the stage, after a dearth of “fun” shows owing to the success of Andrew Lloyd Webber spectacles starring “a guy with a plate on his face.”

In 2002 Idle began collaborating with composer John Du Prez on a musical adaptation of “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.” Before raising the prospect with his fellow Pythons (facing a possible veto of the idea), Idle worked two years on the book and created studio demos of the new songs, packing off the script and CD to each Python. Their responses were positive, and the show moved forward, pulling in veteran stage and film director Mike Nichols to take the reigns.

Arthur’s quest for the Holy Grail, as assigned by the voice of God (a cameo appearance by John Cleese), morphs into a quest for the magical land of Broadway, where the Grail is said to be, and where (as Sir Robin sings), you can’t succeed if you haven’t any Jews (“You Won’t Succeed on Broadway”).

The stage show has more of a through-line in the plot than the film, condensing characters and driving them towards their Grail goal. The corpse collector and the depositor of someone not quite dead in the “Bring Out the Dead” sketch become Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot, who join King Arthur’s army seeking adventure and thrills. Dennis, the argumentative peasant in “Constitutional Peasants,” becomes Sir Galahad, who is whisked off by the Lady of the Lake for a Broadway duet to end all duets (“The Song That Goes Like This”).

Many of the film’s most memorable sequences are recreated, from the taunting French Knights, to Tim the Enchanter and the Killer Rabbit. Even the Black Knight manages to have all his limbs hacked off on stage.

“You have to maintain true to the people, the purists who want to see this,” Idle told Playbill in 2004. “There are many out there; it’s a very popular movie. So there’s no point in straying too far from that. That’s what we’re doing. But at the same time, you have to recognize this is a stageshow.”

Some sketches from the film didn’t made it to the play, or were cut in previews, including the witch sequence, the Three-Headed Knight, the Castle Anthrax, and the Bridge of Death.

After previewing in Chicago, the production opened in New York with a cast featuring Hank Azaria, Tim Curry, David Hyde Pierce, Sara Ramirez, Christian Borle, Michael McGrath, and Steve Rosen. The coconut-clapping knights would continue to brighten Broadway for four years.

Songs

“Fisch Schlapping Song,” “King Arthur’s Song,” “I Am Not Dead Yet,” “Come With Me,” “The Song That Goes Like This,” “All for One,” “Knights of the Round Table.” “Find Your Grail,” “Run Away,” “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life,” “Brave Sir Robin,” “You Won’t Succeed on Broadway,” “The Diva’s Lament,” “Where Are You?” “Here Are You,” “His Name Is Lancelot,” “I’m All Alone,” and “The Holy Grail.”

Reception

The original production for “Spamalot” received 14 Tony nominations, and won three awards – for Best Musical, Best Director, and Best Featured Actress in a Musical (Sara Ramirez). It also won Drama Desk Awards for New Musical, Lyrics, and Costume Design. The Original Cast Album also won a Grammy Award. The 2006 London production was also nominated for seven Olivier Awards.

The show toured extensively across the U.S. and U.K., while productions opened in Las Vegas, Australia, Canada, Czech Republic, France, Germany, Hungary, Japan, Mexico, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, South Korea, Spain, Switzerland and Sweden – but not Finland! And thanks to the show’s gay material (we learn something new about Lancelot), “Spamalot” was banned by the authorities of Malaysia, despite the fact that there were no plans to stage a production there.

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Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy) (from 2007)

“Not the Messiah (He’s a Very Naughty Boy)”
A comic oratorio by Eric Idle & John DuPrez based on “Monty Python’s Life of Brian”
World Premiere: Luminato Festival, Toronto, Canada, 1 June 2007
London Premiere: Royal Albert Hall, 23 October 2009. 

On the heels of the success of “Spamalot” (lovingly ripped off from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”), Eric Idle and John DuPrez collaborated on an oratorio for soloists, chorus and orchestra inspired by “Life of Brian.” 

On With The Show 

Co-commissioned by the Luminato Festival and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, “No the Messiah” is written in the flavor Handel’s “The Messiah” (“All We Like Sheep” here becomes “We Love Sheep”), though with frequent musical digressions that parody Shostakovich, pop, doo wop groups, Bob Dylan, and bagpipe players. 

The world premiere was conducted by Peter Oundjian, who is not only the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s music director, but also Idle’s cousin. 

Originally about one hour in length, the oratorio was expanded to 91 minutes before its presentations in Los Angeles, Australia, New York’s Carnegie Hall, and elsewhere. 

The 2009 performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall, which was recorded and released as an album and video, also featured guest appearances by fellow Pythons Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones and Michael Palin. 

Songs 

Following a “Liberty Bell” overture, the oratorio proceeds in five parts: 

Part One: Apocalypso Now
“Chaos and Confusion!” 
“There Shall Be Monsters”
“O God You Are So Big”

Part Two: The Boy Next Door
“Mandy’s Song”
“Woe Woe Woe!”
“We Love Sheep”
“Spiritual”

Part Three: The Temptation of Brian
“Brian’s Dream”
“What Have the Romans Ever Done For Us?”
“The People’s Front of Judea”
“I Want to Be a Girl”
“The Market Square”
“You’re the One”

Part Four: Baroque and Roll
“Hail to the Shoe!”
“Amourdeus”
“The Chosen One Has Woken!”
“When They Grow Up”
“Take Us Home”
“The Chosen One” (cont.)
“Individuals”

Part Five: Miserere Loves Company
“Find Your Dream”
“Arrested!”
“A Fair Day’s Work” (includes reference to “The Lumberjack Song”
“The Final Song”
“Always Look on the Bright Side of Life”
Encore: “The Lumberjack Song”

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Monty Python Live (mostly) – One Down Five to Go (2014)

“Monty Python Live (mostly) – One Down Five to Go”
The O2, London
10 shows: 1-5 July, 15, 16, 18, 19, 20 July, 2014

 
 

Stirred by a losing court case that cost the group a large share of profits from “Spamalot,” the five surviving Pythons agreed to appear in a one-night-only reunion stage show at The O2, London, 45 years after the group debuted on television.

At a November 2013 press conference, Eric Idle, the show’s director, promised a mix of “comedy, music, and a tiny bit of ancient sex.”

When asked about their age, Michael Palin noted, “It’s easier to be silly after 70.”

After the single show sold out in a record 43.5 seconds, (lots of lovely lira!), more shows were quickly added; a total of 10 dates were booked into the 16,000-seat venue. The final performance, on 20 July, was broadcast live in the U.K. on UKTV Gold and beamed via satellite into cinemas and homes around the world.

On With The Show

The sketches included: Llamas; Four Yorkshiremen; The Last Supper; Vocational Guidance Counselor; Bruces; Crunchy Frog; The Death of Mary, Queen of Scots/Penguin on the Television; Gumby Flower Arrangement; Camp Judges; Albatross; Nudge Nudge; “Blackmail”; The Spanish Inquisition; Argument Clinic; and Pet Shop/Cheese Shop. There were also a few sketches performed on stage for the first time: Blood, Devastation, Death, War and Horror; Protestant Couple; and (Miss) Anne Elk.

There were also song-and-dance numbers (choreographed by Arlene Phillips), including an expanded “Penis Song,” “Every Sperm Is Sacred,” “The Lumberjack Song,” The Bruces’ Philosophers Song,” “I Like Chinese,” “Sit on My Face,” “Spam Lake,” “Nudge Rap,” a Silly Walks dance routine, “The Galaxy Song,” “I’ve Got Two Legs,” “Spam/Finland,” “Christmas In Heaven,” and “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life.”

Among the sketches projected on screen were: The Batley Townswomen’s Guild’s Reenactment of the Battle of Pearl Harbor; Silly Olympics; Greek-German Philosophers Football Match; and several Gilliam animations.

Also, professors Brian Cox and Stephen Hawking (in a speeding wheelchair) made cameo appearances in a filmed sketch about the physics of “The Galaxy Song.”

“Python fans are extraordinarily decent people,” John Cleese told Rolling Stone after the reunion engagement, “and they’ve got a wonderful sense of humor. When the place was filled with 16,000 of them, the atmosphere is so warm. That relaxes the performers. It’s like playing a sport: The more relaxed you are, the better your timing is. You get funnier, and then the audience likes it even more. It’s an upward spiral.”

Of the reunion, which he characterized “a sweet goodbye,” Cleese said, “We could say, ‘Well, that really was satisfactory.’ These things often don’t work and this, for some reason, did work. … There was no regret or sadness.”

Terry Gilliam told Esquire that the reunion show upset his plans to finally film the oft-delayed “Don Quixote,” so the prospect of performing had left him “really pissed off. I went into it with a really bad attitude. But once we got onstage, it was fantastic. It was really good fun. In fact, once we got going in rehearsals I decided I didn’t care anymore. I decided, ‘Just fuck it. Let’s go.’ The utter ecstasy of 16,000 people on their feet screaming for everything you’re doing. You get so wrapped up in it. …
“Then two weeks later, it’s like it never happened.”

 

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