So you loved them, yeh, yeh, yeh. Well, you can love them all over again. No, it’s not an announcement that the Beatles, separated lo these 10 years, have reunited. But it’s the next best thing—Beatlemania, a remarkable cloning of the fabulous four that has played to sold-out theatres in America for two years and opens in Toronto at the O’Keefe Centre June 28.
Beatlemania, in defiance of the axioms of geometry, is more than the sum of its parts. Sure, there are those adora-
amplifiers ble look-alike and sing-alikes. synthesizers And the that huge so mesmerize the young audience. Ladled over that is an electrifying combination of the sights and sounds of the ’60s that transforms the show—29 artfully grouped Beatles compositions—from just another rock concert to an overarching symphony of changing times. If you grew up in the ’60s and didn’t wear blinders, Beatlemania is a sometimes painful but always exhilarating trip home. More than a re-creati£jj^§four
cuddly Liverpudlian teen-agers, it’s the chronicle of a generation—or, as one critic called it, a “rockumentary.”
Aping the behavior of the original Beatle audiences, kids still scream in all the appropriate places, fostering the bygone reality of the Broadway illusion. For them, the pictures that flash on the huge backdrop screen and on the sidestage scrims are the stuff of ancient history; for those whose lives were actually moulded by the ’60s, the images are unforgettable. Covers of old TV Guides fill the screen—a dimpled Doris Day; Marilyn Monroe, as tantalizingly seductive as the GI poster that first brought her pinup fame; Liz Taylor, whose face had not yet succumbed to gravity; and John Glenn in the astronaut suit that symbolized high adventure before Star Wars.
Watching over 4,000 slides, we relive the moments that make the throat tighten: Martin Luther King Jr.
burning with intensity; Jackie Kennedy in the bright pink pillbox hat she wore on that awful day in Dallas; and then, of course, the Los Angeles hotel kitchen that ended the Camelot of the two Kennedy brothers. It all flashes before you with mind-numbing accuracy—the advancing troops at Kent State; the threatening lawmen at the civil rights demonstrations in Selma, Alabama; Rich-
ard Nixon’s famous farewell press conference, when, after losing the California governorship race, he promised the assembled journalists, “You won’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” Overhead on stage a billboard flashes the forgotten headlines that were yesterday’s hot news: CASSIUS CLAY CHANGES HIS NAME . . . LENNY BRUCE BEATS OBSCENITY RAP . . . VATICAN ABSOLVES JEWS OF THE CRUCIFIXION.
There are cheap thrills, as well, including enough shots of dreamily contented flower children to suggest nobody had much time for anything in the
’60s except smoking grass. At the outset of the performance, a public address announcement warns the audience in heavily suggestive tones, “Smoking— anything—is forbidden in the theatre.” The producers have even added a private security guard to the corps of weather-beaten ushers. By intermission—wouldn’t you know it?—the lobby is redolent of sweet sniffs of pot.
To ensure Beatle-like fidelity, the show’s producers, Steve Leber and David Krebs, auditioned over 2,000 aspiring rockers, making a final selection based on a combination of talent and
appearance. For further indoctrination, the chosen clones were closeted in a studio for nine months to zero in on Beatle sound and stage presence. Equipped with everything from wigs to false chins, and costumed to reflect the sartorial evolution of the originals, the imitators are creditable duplicates. “Getting the sound right was the most important thing,” says Leber. “If we could only suggest the appearance and get the sound perfect, I knew we’d be okay.” Perfect it’s not, but on numbers like Hey Jude and Let It Be the music comes awfully close. The spoken word, how-
ever, is another matter: when North Americans imitate such Merseyside lovelies as “Thank you very mooch,” the results sound like kindergarteners hiding mashed potatoes under their tongues.
Despite his faith in the appeal of the show, Leber was initially unwilling to subject it to the tender mercies of the critics. To elude the poison pens, who in the unwritten law of the theatre never review a production until the official opening night, Beatlemania played for over a month in previews. Then an unheralded cast party quietly marked the
opening, and by that time the critics (whose reviews in the end proved overwhelmingly favorable) were unable to damage Beatlemania’s reputation,
spread through high-school cafeterias and locker rooms by word of mouth. “I’m not against critics,” Leber says, “but I felt it was essential that real people have a chance to experience the show first. Who can tell me that an opening night on Broadway is made up of real people?”
Leber, in fact, feels The Great White Way owes him a vote of thanks for finding a new audience. “Most of the kids who come to Beatlemania would never have thought of any kind of live entertainment before except a rock concert. We are bringing a whole new generation to the theatre.” If so, it’s a favor Broadway has not thanked him for. “There’s no doubt about it,” he shrugs, “we are still very much resented as the new kids on the block.”
Success notwithstanding, Leber doesn’t plan to capitalize on Beatlemania with a similarly staged rock spectacular. “What can you do after the Beatles? They’re the Bach and Beethoven of our generation.” And even those who like their decibels lower and their Bach and Beethoven straight will have to admit that Beatlemania goes a long way toward making Leber’s case.
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