An Evening without Hank Azaria

Much an improvement on Eric Idle’s earlier Montalban production — a bunch of ringers performing Rutles material — “An Evening Without Monty Python” answers the unasked question: will audiences accept a series of beloved, almost overly-familiar landmarks of British sketch comedy performed by none of the original cast, and with only one genuine Brit among the performers?

The answer, which should please all the financially-participating Pythons, is: “absolutely.” With only a limited number of performances scheduled in Los Angeles and New York City, my guess is that Idle has bus-and-truck, community and dinner theater productions in mind. Lots of them.

Of course it may be difficult to find farceurs as skilled as this bunch, which may be difficult.

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Hank Azaria, originally announced, pulled out of the production for a better gig (the currently-filming “Love and Other Drugs”), a fact unmentioned in Tuesdays lengthy Los Angeles Times feature on the show. That said, it’d be hard to imagine that he’d have done any better than his excellent replacement, Jeff B. Davis.

Jane Leeves, the British actress I first saw as “Blue,” the punk receptionist in the syndicated sitcim “Throb” (what — you don’t remember? Diana Canova? Jonathan Prince?) appears here as a full member of the cast, though of course all the original Pythons were (and remain) male. She fit in very well, even performing in drag for a couple of sketches.

As for the Americans — well, Stateside actors love doing “British” accents almost as much as U.S. television and film producers love casting Brits and Australians to play Americans.

The music seems to be prerecorded, which is something of a cheat, but probably results in a better sound mix than would have been possible with a live band. A couple of totally unnecessary (and, to me, not all that funny) local and timely references were inserted. And there’s a small amount of audience involvement, some more rewarding than the rest on Wednesday night.

Sure, the show was a lot of fun, and yes, it was definitely on the short side — I figure about 1’20”, including a single encore but with no intermission. It moved exceedingly quickly, which I found amazing for what was announced as their first performance in front of an audience (which is to say, Wednesday was a preview). I’d see it again in a minute.

And it’s nice to see Monty Python routines where the laughter doesn’t come from an ancient BBC tape loop.

Almost (and just by a hair) as funny as the Python program is Ricardo Montalban’s prerecorded “turn off your cell phones” announcement. Take your seats early, so’s not to miss it.

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