The Beatles’ global impact can’t be overstated, and ‘Beatlemania’ was hailed among the most ambitious theatrical productions in Broadway history. ‘Beatlemania Now’ ties the two together well at Trump Plaza.
Nightly club-style seating at the Theater at Trump Plaza could make it feel like a modern-day counterpart to the famed Cavern Club in Liverpool of five decades ago, when the Beatles were first inching their way into superstardom.
And when guests gather close to the stage for the start of Beatlemania Now — the tribute show running through the Sunday of Labor Day weekend at the Plaza — they soon find themselves experiencing not just a chronicling of one of the most influential bands in music history, but a sort of multi-sensory trip back in time to one of the most turbulent and culturally significant periods in world history.
Beatlemania Now not only captures the essence of the Fab Four’s sound and style evolution in a 22-song set list and a half-dozen scene and costume changes, there’s a visual collage on three giant screens behind and flanking either side of the band that is nearly, if not entirely, as mesmerizing.
Some of the video footage is graphic artwork created specifically for songs as they are performed — songs spanning the group’s February 1964 American debut and teen-idol sound on the Ed Sullivan Show through its psychedelic era and last released studio album, Let It Be (1970) — and some is actual footage of historic events, key figures and pop culture that overlapped the Beatles’ history as a band (1960-’70).
“It’s hard to think of the ’60s without thinking of the Beatles,” says Scot Arch, who has performed the part of John Lennon since Beatlemania Now began touring in 1983, spun from the smash Broadway production Beatlemania that started in 1977. “Let’s face it, much of that decade was fashioned and shaped a lot by the music the Beatles were playing, and the messages they were sending ... It’s hard to escape the Beatles. I mean, they really do get handed down from generation to generation. As far as music in general is concerned, you know there’s that old saying ‘you can’t please all of the people all of the time’? Well, with the Beatles you almost can. It’s as close as you’re going to get.”
Arch and his bandmates are masterful in their recreation of the Beatles’ complex evolution, and Arch’s suggestion that the music is timeless and spans multiple generations manifests itself in the other three members — Graham Alexander (Paul McCartney), Eric James Smith (Ringo Starr) and Christopher Colon (George Harrison) — all of whom were born long after the Beatles’ disbanded in 1970, but possessing impressive music credentials nonetheless.
Alexander, 23, also plays piano on the songs “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” in Beatlemania Now, and has appeared in 150 performances of the Broadway production RAIN, a spinoff of Beatlemania that likewise became a successful national tour. For Beatlemania Now, Alexander taught himself to play the bass left-handed, as McCartney does, with the exception of a stirring solo rendition of the song “Yesterday” that he plays right-handed on an acoustic guitar.
“I learned to play left-handed for the show, but the music should absolutely come first so when I’m doing the [Yesterday] solo I play right-handed,” says Alexander, who on a recent night was the recipient of much adulation from a “girls night out” group of middle-aged women showering him with calls of “We love you Paul!” “I’d rather go out in a field, curl up in a ball and die than play it poorly just for the look ... as dramatic as that may sound.”
The performance features over a dozen classic guitars matching those used by Lennon and Harrison, the Ludwig drums Starr played and the Höfner violin bass McCartney played. The group also morphs sartorially in the show from the matching black suits the Beatles wore on the Sullivan show through the various fashions they helped popularize, although, as Arch points out, the Beatles never actually performed live in anything like the colorful garb they wore on the Sgt. Pepper album cover (1967) or the outfits they donned in the famed street crossing of Abbey Road (1969). The Beatles were only a touring band from 1963 through part of 1966, so ultra-influential records like Revolver (1966), Sgt. Pepper, Yellow Submarine (1969), Abbey Road and Let It Be all post-dated the band’s touring career.
“They would never have played those songs in concert, because they would have only played songs in concert up until 1966,” says Arch, who plays piano on the song “Imagine” as a tribute to Lennon’s solo work, and dons a walrus mask while playing piano on the song “I Am the Walrus.” “They would have stopped performing before any of that psychedelic stuff, but they stayed intact as a band through their studio years, which included some of their best records. But [had they continued touring] Paul would have played piano on the particular songs Graham did here, just as John would have performed on the piano as well on some other songs.”
‘Beatlemania Now’ set list:
“I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “She Loves You,” “Eight Days a Week,” “Yesterday,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “With a Little Help from My Friends,” “Strawberry Fields Forever,” “A Day in the Life,” “All You Need Is Love,” “Penny Lane,” “I Am the Walrus,” “Revolution,” “Helter Skelter,” “Imagine,” “Here Comes the Sun,” “Get Back,” “Come Together,” “Let It Be,” “Hey Jude,” “Twist and Shout.”
Where: The Theater at Trump Plaza
When: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Saturday at 8pm, and Sunday at 7pm, through Sept. 2.
How much: $32.50. Tickets available at the door, through Ticketmaster, or by calling 800-736-1420.
On the Web: beatlemanianow.com
photo by don kravitz
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