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The long and wacky road

Eric Idle hopes 'Rutlemania' will catch fire again at the Montalban. Ouch!

March 15, 2008|Randy Lewis | Times Staff Writer

It was shaping up as the quintessential theater-world nightmare. Deep into rehearsal, barely 72 hours before the curtain would rise on this world premiere, the show's creator sat silently in a darkened theater, a potential disaster brewing before him. As the climactic musical number began, the onstage drummer began scrambling to locate a vital piece of missing equipment.

He'd lost his pig nose.

Out in the house, Eric Idle remained unfazed. No wayward snout was going to stop the reincarnation of his whimsical pop-music creation, the Rutles, nor his enjoyment of this utterly surreal career moment.

"It's really fun, it actually is," Idle said a few minutes later in the cramped office of the Ricardo Montalban Theatre in Hollywood, where "Rutlemania" opens a water-testing five-performance run starting tonight and continuing through Friday.

"I don't think anyone has ever tried this insanity before," he added, with the barely concealed snicker of a schoolboy sneaking a devious gag past the headmaster. "It's a tribute to people who never existed."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Tuesday, March 18, 2008 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 33 words Type of Material: Correction
"Rutlemania" phone number: The ticket information number included with a story in Saturday's Calendar about the show "Rutlemania," at the Ricardo Montalban Theatre through Friday, was incorrect. The correct number is (866) 468-3399.

It's also a tribute to an act whose legacy, Idle famously predicted in 1978, "would last a lunchtime."

The former Monty Python writer and actor and mastermind behind the Python-inspired Broadway and Las Vegas hit musical “Spamalot” conceived "Rutlemania" to ratchet up the absurdity of the 30th anniversary of "All You Need Is Cash," the Idle-scripted and emceed mockumentary about the British pseudo-supergroup that virtually gave birth to the cinematic genre.

Two screenings of the film on Monday at Hollywood's Egyptian Theatre, part of the ongoing Mods & Rockers Film Festival, will be accompanied by a Q&A with the original participants: Idle, singer-songwriter guitarist Ricky Fataar and drummer John Halsey. It will be the first time the "Prefab Four" have ever come together in public.

"Rutlemania" is another animal, part stage play, part movie, part rock concert. It tells the band's Beatle-esque story with film clips and live performances of Innes' wickedly clever songs, among them "Hold My Hand," "Cheese and Onions," "Piggy in the Middle" (hence the need for the porcine proboscis) and "Ouch!"

The music will be played not by "real" Rutles Dirk McQuickly (Idle), Ron Nasty (Innes), Stig O'Hara (Fataar) and Barry Wom (Halsey), but by the Fab Four, a veteran Beatles tribute band.

In short, impersonators saluting parodists.

"I get bored with regular concerts," said Idle, an L.A. transplant who turns 65 in two weeks. "After the lights go down and the fireworks go off, it's always the same. Everything's been done. It will be interesting to see what comes of this."

For Innes, the former Bonzo Dog Band singer-songwriter dubbed "the seventh Python" by other members of the troupe, "Rutlemania" is groundbreaking in a different way: It's the first time he's heard the songs performed by anyone other than himself.

"I went to a Beatlefest in 1994," Innes said, "and it was the first time I really got a sense that people loved the Rutles almost as much as they loved the Beatles."

Fans weren't the only ones who took to the Rutles. Idle likes to tell the story of the time he and Innes visited George Harrison at his house in the late-'90s when Ringo Starr was there. At one point, Harrison and Starr started singing "Ouch!" to the Rutles' Paul McCartney and John Lennon doppelgangers -- a moment of inverted reality that still makes both men smile.

The Rutles were born in 1976 as a bit on Idle's short-lived post-Python BBC series "Rutland Weekend Television," a precursor of sorts to "SCTV," ostensibly offering programming of a cash-strapped rural British television station.

When invited to appear on NBC's then new "Saturday Night Live," Idle brought along the Rutles clip, shot in black-and-white a la "A Hard Day's Night." "SNL" producer Lorne Michaels was sufficiently impressed to wangle financing for a full-length TV film, "All You Need Is Cash."

Mods & Rockers festival organizer Martin Lewis points out that the Rutles made television history when it aired: "It was the lowest-rated show of the week, and it turned out to be the lowest-rated program of the year."

But the Rutles refused to die.

"People still watch the film," Idle said. "Who's watching the episode of 'Charlie's Angels' that was No. 1 that week?"

Rhino Records reissued the cult-favorite soundtrack album in 1990, the same year a Rutles tribute album was released featuring new versions of Innes' songs by indie rockers including Syd Straw, Shonen Knife and Galaxie 500. Four years later, in part inspired by his experience at the fan convention, Innes performed at the Troubadour, backed by the Beatles tribute band the Moptops, as Ron Nasty and the New Rutles, an offshoot of a 25th anniversary Monty Python salute.

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