Monty Python swansong (probably) will surprise

First Published      Last Updated Jun 06 2014 05:41 pm

London • Everybody expects the Spanish Inquisition. And as with all things Monty Python, fans need to expect the unexpected, too.

Next month the surviving Monty Python members reunite onstage for the first time in almost 35 years — and, they say, the last time ever. Fans understandably want to see the anarchic comedy troupe's classic skits. They're hoping for Spam, lumberjacks, dead parrots and of course the red-robed cardinals who burst in to proclaim: "Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!"

Troupe member Eric Idle assures fans they will get the old favorites — but they are also in for surprises.

"I've got one or two up my sleeve that will absolutely freak people out," said Idle, who has taken the lead on assembling the 10 performances at London's O2 Arena.

The "Monty Python Live (mostly)" shows will take place between July 1 and July 20, with the final performance beamed live into movie theaters worldwide — including hundreds in the United States. (See www.montypythonlive.com for a schedule.) More screenings are planned on July 23, 24 and Aug. 6. Tickets for the U.S. screenings are on sale.

The numbers (musical and otherwise)

"It's not five old guys on a stage doing old sketches," Idle said of the show, which has a budget of $3.5 million. He spoke by phone to The Associated Press from Seattle.

The 15,000-seat stadium will be filled with the help of a live orchestra, film footage, special effects and Terry Gilliam's surreal animation. There will be plenty of "rude songs and rude dancing" from an ensemble of 20 singers and dancers — the approach Idle adopted during his performance at the 2012 Olympics closing ceremony.

"Who wants to look at a bunch of old guys? Put some attractive young people onstage," said Idle, at 71 the youngest of the group. "That's my Broadway background. It's what I learned from 'Spamalot.' "

The sixth member of Monty Python, Graham Chapman, died of cancer in 1989 but will be present in recorded form. Carol Cleveland, who appeared regularly on the Pythons' 1970s TV show, will also take part.

"It's a revue — 'Déjà Revue,' as I call it," Idle said.

"What I've tried to do is make a sort of necklace — and we'll be the jewels. I've tried to make it segue into each other like the old Python shows used to do."

A few surprises

Idle began by asking Gilliam, Michael Palin, John Cleese and Terry Jones for their favorite Python nuggets. "I've tried to do things we've never done onstage as well," he said.

"Python has always tried to push the expectation level, and just be a little bit more than they could possibly hope for. I think that's one of its secrets — it's always been, 'Well this will really surprise them.' "

Idle says he's looking forward to the live transmission's potential for chaos. "You don't normally have that opportunity to dry and be embarrassing and hopeless onscreen."

Comic camaraderie

Idle said the atmosphere among the five group members was "delightful" — though Gilliam, now a film and opera director, branded the reunion "depressing" in a recent British newspaper interview.

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The 68th Annual Tony Awards airs tonight at 7 on CBS/Ch. 2. (Tape delayed in this time zone.)