Musical 'Life of Brian' has Idle looking on bright side

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It seems strange to think that when it was released in 1979, Monty Python's Life of Brian scandalised church leaders, prompting criticism from bishops and family values campaigners. There were boycotts, protests and furious debates over the film's allegedly blasphemous content.

But the world has moved on and "Brian" is now one of the best-loved films of all time both in Europe and the United States.

Now, inevitably, comes the musical. Yesterday, former Python Eric Idle announced he was to follow the international success of Spamalot, the musical version of Monty Python and the Holy Grail, by turning the Life of Brian into a "comic oratorio" titled Not The Messiah (He's A Very Naughty Boy). The show will have its world premiere in Toronto in June as part of an arts festival to promote tourism. Idle, who played characters ranging from Harry the Haggler to the Woman Who Cast First Stone and the Intensely Dull Youth in the original, was giving little away when he spoke to film industry magazine Variety.

The 63-year-old said: "I promise it will be funnier than Handel, although probably not as good."

Fans will be desperate to know whether they can look forward to the return of much loved characters like Biggus Dickus, Jesus the Christ and of course Brian himself. They will also be wondering whether the film's most famous song, Always Look On The Bright Side of Life, will make an appearance despite having been borrowed for the earlier musical. Spamalot won three Tony awards including best musical after opening on Broadway in March 2005 and has brought in $100m (£51m) in ticket sales.

A national tour and a West End production followed. Not The Messiah was commissioned by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, whose music director, Peter Oundjian, is Idle's cousin.

But the comedian insisted he had nothing to do with his decision. "Who would want to work with their relatives, anyway?" he asked. "They're usually unpleasant, dishonest and slow to pick up the cheque." However, he conceded: "He's got a bit of class, which is something my family has always desperately needed."

Spamalot co-composer John Du Prez will collaborate with Idle again. The show's debut will be at Toronto's inaugural Luminato Festival of the Arts.

The Life of Brian was re-released in 2004 to "cash in" according to former Python Terry Jones, on the success of Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ. Despite achieving respectable box office receipts it failed to do as well as Holy Grail re-released in the US three years earlier.