Eric Idle, with the Houston Symphony

For a symphony orchestra, audience laughter during a performance is something to be avoided at all costs — unless, that is, Eric Idle is in the building. "To watch people laugh in a symphony concert situation is a great situation," says Idle, co-founder of one of the greatest (and certainly the silliest) comedy troupes in history, Britain's Monty Python. After the runaway success of Spamalot, their 2005 Tony-winning musical based on Python's classic 1975 film Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Idle and longtime musical collaborator John du Prez (A Fish Called Wanda, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life) set their sights on Handel and came up with Not the Messiah, a comic oratorio based on Python's 1979 Jesus spoof Life of Brian. It's going to be crowded on the Jones Hall stage: Idle (singing his parts from the movie), du Prez (conducting the orchestra), four actual opera singers, a 105-person choir, bagpipers and a few special guests. "We have a singing sheep, and Bob Dylan makes a surprise appearance," says Idle, who describes his own voice as "baritone-ish." "It's loony."


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