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Broadway Reviews

A Tribute to The Beatles On Broadway

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray - October 26, 2010

RAIN - A Tribute to The Beatles On Broadway Scenic design by Scott Christensen, Todd Skinner. Video design by Darren McCaulley, Mathieu St-Arnaud. Lighting design by Stephan Gotschel. Sound design by Abe Jacob. Cast: Steve Landes, Joey Curatolo, Joe Bithorn, Ralph Castelli.
Theatre: Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue
Schedule: Limited engagement through January 9, 2011. Monday at 8 pm, Tuesday at 7 pm, Thursday through Saturday at 8 pm, Saturday at 2 pm, Sunday at 3 pm and 7 pm.
Ticket prices: $59 – $202.50
Tickets: Ticketmaster

Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Say what you will about Rain—A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway, which is now playing at the Neil Simon until January 9, but you certainly can't accuse of it of false advertising. If only more major shows were as honest about their intentions, their goals, and their limitations as this one, which tells you upfront what you're getting and what you're not, and delivers no less and—most assuredly—no more. It does wonders for a cynical theatregoer's heart. That the show itself is pretty good is almost incidental.

The barest fact of the matter is this: If you love songs from any or every period in Beatles history, then you're going to find something here to groove to. But you also don't have to worry about comparing the guys onstage to the genuine articles. Steve Landes, Joey Curatolo, Joe Bithorn, and Ralph Castelli may wear mop tops early in the first act and swath themselves in psychedelically colored Summer-of-Love fabrics closer to the end, and the few bits of speech you hear may come dressed in unmistakable Liverpudlian accents, but they're not actually trying to be John, Paul, George, and Ringo. So faulting them for one-dimensional impersonation, when they're not impersonating in any traditional sense, would be utterly beside the point.

You merely need to accept this show—a spiritual successor to the long-running revue Beatlemania, and which has itself been touring for the better part of 30 years—as the unadventurous enterprise it is, and you'll have a good time—possibly even a great one. Though I enjoy the Beatles, I've never been a die-hard fan, but this gang's renditions of classics like “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Hard Day's Night,” and “Twist and Shout” in the first act embodied every drop of the real group's slyly innocent energy, if not always its vague undercurrent of dangerousness.

The second act, devoted largely to the group's later and more experimental work, might be a harder sell to those who prefer the gently romantic rock that characterized its storied appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show. But judging by the swooning surrounding me and the mid-show standing ovation (the only one at the performance I attended), “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” is a killer here. And you could feel the one-on-one bond with the audience in the plaintive “Let It Be” and in the sing-along sections of the “Hey Jude" encore.

It's when Rain bothers fabricating connections to our reality that the seams start to show. Darren McCaulley and Mathieu St-Arnaud's videos, displayed on three large screens (two on either side of the stage, and one upstage behind the performers), are constantly emblazoned with photos of fainting fans, stop-motion animation recalling Yellow Submarine and key album covers, and film clips that blare more overt political context than is strictly necessary. And do we really need to see on them an actor (Jerry Hoban) doing a caricaturish impression of Sullivan to understand the group's cultural impact on a generation?

What made the Beatles special, and has helped them retain their appeal even today, is that the group's music always spoke for itself. As long as Rain focuses on promoting that concept, there's not much else to complain about. The members of the quartet (who are occasionally joined by Mark Beyer on keyboards and percussion) are all crack singers and instrumentalists, and are tight-fitting emcees for an evening of fun. No, they won't transport you back to the ‘60s and ‘70s or make you forget the real Fab Four, but so what? As the title wisely announces, they're paying tribute to the irreplaceable group, not trying to usurp its legend. If this show won't endure in your memory as long as the real Beatles will, it at least provides some fine, frivolous entertainment for the here and now.

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