I grew up a Beatles fan. Didn’t everyone? I mean, it feels like saying, “I love pizza” or even “I enjoy a beautiful sunset.” It feels so incredibly generic, but at the same time necessary to announce for the simple reason that it’s part of who I am. It’s also something I’m proud to admit. I was born to two musically-inclined parents. My father played piano and jazz organ and my mother guitar. While inheriting their respective tempers, I also was fortunate enough to inherit their passion for music in its various forms- performing it and consuming it. On car rides to my speech therapy class at age 6, my father would dutifully play 101.1 CBS FM, which I embraced as it served as a more accessible alternative to his lyric-less jazz station. I found myself humming along to the stars of the 60s, imagining my father doing the same the first time he’d heard these songs, lying on his bed mindlessly finishing schoolwork. It was during these rides that I discovered my first love. It didn’t have pigtails, nor did it bat its eyes at me on the playground. But it had my heart just the same. It was the art of song. More specifically, Beatles’ songs.
Fast forward 25 years and I’m attending the show “Rain- A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway” in Manhattan with my wife, Sonia. I’d heard great things from reliable sources, and was able to find a great deal on rear mezzanine seats for $25 each. Like any Broadway show, your comfort level is largely dependent on the girth of those to your immediate right and left. I hiked to my seat in Row L (the second to last row in the entire theater) and found myself in between my wife and a portly middle-aged gentleman whose arms and stomach hopelessly spilled over into my chair space. The lights dimmed as I leaned into my wife for fear of being completely engulfed by my other neighbor. Everyone, whether 25 or 75, was ready for a treat, regardless of logistical annoyances.
The lights dimmed and two large television screens flashed black and white images of yesteryear, with familiar hits from the Mamas and the Papas, Elvis and others serving as the backdrop. As I’d anticipated, the final clip of the sequence was that of Ed Sullivan, vibrantly introducing the band to the stage. Lights go on and there are the four faux Beatles, harmoniously crooning “I Want to Hold Your Hand” on stage, donned in the classic early-era Beatles black suits and orderly hair. The actor/singer playing Paul was listed in the Playbill as having won several McCartney sound-alike contests, and with good reason. Not only does his vocal tone mirror McCartney’s almost exactly, but he’s made up to look a good deal like him as well. They finished the set with other favorites such as “I’m Happy Just to Dance With You,” “This Boy” and “Twist and Shout” as the Paul character encouraged the crowd to clap with the beat and even get out of their chairs and dance. The baby boomers in the crowd were more than happy to oblige, as they seemed to treat the show more as a homecoming than a tribute concert, freely swaying in front of their seats, fingers snapping and eyes closed tight with delight.
Each individual set they performed was crafted masterfully around a different era of the band’s career. After ending one set, the televisions once again came on, this particular montage ending with the video image and audio both distorting simultaneously, indicating a changing of the guard. The opening chords of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” begin to pulse through the speakers and the band was on stage in vintage Sgt. Pepper gear. I smiled so much my face hurt.
Different eras appealed to different people, of course, and this became apparent as the show went on. The tried and true fans geeked out over an acoustic set that included an intimate performance of “Across the Universe” and “Norwegian Wood” and the less passionate ”stock” audience members still happily shouted along during the “na na” ending of “Hey Jude.”
Overall, the characterization of the classic Fab Four was near spotless, as Paul acted as the amiable, charismatic one, John the spokesman for psychedelic, George the reticent member along for the ride and Ringo, the head-bobbing beat-keeper. Put simply, when music is as great as this is, it’s worth celebrating, time and time again. Even the overly nasal portrayal of Lennon’s vocals was easily forgiven.
Would I recommend this show? If you consider yourself a Beatles fan, even mildly, I would say yes. That is, if you enjoy listening to the greatest music ever written.
* I intend to make this blog about music and music only. That means I’ll be writing reviews of songs, albums, concerts, books about artists, etc. Please feel free to drop me a line with your thoughts on: if you agree/disagree with me, other artists you’d think I’d like. Let’s use the Internet for what it’s supposed to be used for- to talk music!