Dallas Summer Musicals at Fair Park
March 8, 2017
This is one of my rare forays from the big screen to the big stage. The touring production of this world famous musical came to Dallas, and will soon play Ft Worth before heading off to the next stop.
The Beatles’ first big UK hit was in 1962 (“Love Me Do”) and their first U.S. tour occurred in 1964. The band’s final live performance was in 1969 on a rooftop in London, and they officially broke up in 1970. During this unprecedented run (and since), The Beatles sold more records than any band in history, and changed the face and sound of popular music at least a couple of times. Because of this unparalleled success and popularity, it’s not surprising that the band and its music have now generated THREE stage productions – Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles, Beatlemania, and most recently, Let it Be: A Celebration of the Music of The Beatles.
Revamped after successful runs in London’s West End and on Broadway, this touring version is split into two parts: Act 1 hits some of the highlights of the band’s career, while Act 2 provides a look at what might have been – a reunion of the band in 1980. One could describe this as ‘What was’ versus ‘What if?’.
Kicking off with the first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show”, the familiar music immediately lights the warm fire of nostalgia in the audience. The other segments in this first Act include the Shea Stadium concert, the Sgt Pepper era, and finally Abbey Road – replete with a barefoot Paul. What is immediately apparent is that the four lads on stage may not closely resemble the original band in looks, but they certainly are talented musicians and singers. The banter with the audience is not especially a highlight as the exaggerated speaking voices meant to mimic Paul and John are at times cringe-inducing, but this in no way impacts the enjoyment and expert versions of the songs that are permanently imbedded in our DNA.
The difference maker in this show is the ‘What if?’ second Act, as the ultimate fan fantasy occurs – the four lads from Liverpool reunite for a concert on John’s 40th birthday, October 9, 1980. This is ten years after they disbanded, and there are some musical chills as they play a blend of their hits from “the good old days” and meld their talents on songs from their individual projects. Selections include George’s “What is Life”, John’s “Starting Over”, Ringo’s “It Don’t Come Easy”, and Paul’s “Band on the Run”. There is also “Blackbird” in the stage style of Crosby, Stills and Nash; while John’s “Imagine” truly hits the right note. Though the encore is predictable and necessary and crowd-pleasing, the musical highlight of the show is George’s searing version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”.
With an emphasis on the music, the stage props were minimal. Either side featured a retro dial radio and television. While the band played, the familiar clips of actual Beatles audiences were shown; during the costume changes, we were treated to music from the era, news clips, and the always good-for-a-laugh Carnation Instant Breakfast commercial. Complementing the fine music were the spot on costumes. Evolving from the early suits, mop-tops and Beatle boots to the spectacular Sgt Pepper psychedelic colors, and culminating in Lennon’s iconic New York City t-shirt, the clothes and facial hair leave no doubt as to the era. Neil Candelora plays Paul with the perfect amount of fake stage pep and constant need for audience feedback, and JT Curtis as George gets to flash his prolific musical expertise periodically while struggling to maintain the mostly still nature of the quiet one. Chris McBurney handles Ringo’s drums with relative ease, and Michael Gagliano adds the Lennon edge necessary to capture the band’s stage presence. It may not be a true “Revolution” but everything does “Come Together” for an extremely fun and crowd-pleasing time.