Wednesday, November 3, 2010

All Together Now


Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway
Performances through January 9, 2011

Neil Simon Theatre
250 West 52nd Street

When Beatlemania first appeared on Broadway in 1977, tribute bands were not the cottage industry they are now. Back then, four musicians performing the Beatles’ transcendent music as part of a multimedia show was as much a journey through recent cultural pop history—which, it was assumed—much of its audience had lived through—as it was a genuflection to the greatest rock artists in history.

Rain, on the other hand, is one of many current Beatles tribute bands: playing New York regularly are Strawberry Fields and the Fab Faux, and the group 1964 shows up at Carnegie Hall annually. Rain’s Broadway run is a way to make a splash in a suddenly crowded field, and helping replicate the Beatles’ musical greatness are four musicians who have been part of subsequent Beatlemania tours.

Rain goes the whole hog in recreating the Beatles’ experience: two video screens on either side of the stage show actual and faked ‘60s-era clips, some containing faux Beatles cleverly intercut into the proceedings. Visuals are also thrown up behind the band to illustrate the songs, although literalness sinks a few, like “Eleanor Rigby.” There is even a political jab during one between-songs interlude: a Hendrix sound-alike performs “All Along the Watchtower,” and when he reaches the line “said the joker to the thief,” we see footage of LBJ and Nixon to delight the baby boomers in attendance.

Beginning with the Fab Four’s famous Ed Sullivan appearance on February 7, 1964—which marks Rain’s opener, “I Want to Hold Your Hand”—we move through the Beatles’ career in fits and starts, from “A Hard Day’s Night” and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” to “Revolution” and Abbey Road’s “The End,” with a detour to the semi-acoustic Rubber Soul era. Although there are nods to the era’s political and social upheavals (notably Vietnam), unlike Beatlemania’s pertinent commentary, here it mainly smacks of nostalgia, especially when we watch actual TV commercials such as one of cartoon Flintstones characters smoking Winston cigarettes. Most of the audience is old enough to remember this stuff, so it goes over well.

And the songs? Rain’s members—Steve Landes (John), Joey Curatolo (Paul), Joe Bithorn (George), Ralph Castelli (Ringo)—are proficient musicians who can perform the sophisticated arrangements of “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “A Day in the Life” nearly note-for-note; Bithorn even pulls off Eric Clapton’s dazzling solo on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” The songs sound almost exactly as the originals; indeed, the only moment of spontaneity is during “We Can Work It Out,” when Curatolo admonishes an audience member for answering a cell phone right in front of him.

The quartet is visually augmented by wig and costume changes to ape how the Beatles looked over the years, which has a weird effect, since all four are heavily made up to look like mannequins with unearthly skin hues. Curatolo also keeps smiling throughout the show, I assume as a parody of McCartney’s relentlessly cheerful persona. But I don’t know if imitating Sir Paul’s tacky gender-based sing-alongs during his concert performances of “Hey Jude” is a joke or in deadly earnest.

Two hours of Rain—named after Lennon’s 1966 B-side of Paul’s “Paperback Writer,” neither of which is performed—is an acceptable simulation for Beatles fans, even if the actual CDs (as well as Paul and Ringo themselves) are still around to listen to and be transported, not merely entertained, by.

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