Every season or so, an endless road tour of some sort of entertainment -- music or dance, or both -- parks itself in a Broadway house to let New York audiences sample what they've been serving across the U.S., if not the world.
This fall, it's "Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles," a well-traveled, well-rehearsed and, well, sorta cheesy production that has steered itself into the Neil Simon Theatre. It has apparently directed itself there, too, since no one gets that credit.
Your affinity for the Fab Four, cover-band mimicry and bad mop-top wigs will be a good gauge for whether or not thisnonstop nostalgia trip is for you. And don't forget the sing-alongs -- this show takes seriously the getting by with a little help from friends (aka the audience).
Named for a Beatles B-side, the show features a 30-song set performed by practiced pros who've been covering the group's tunes for years, some of them in "Beatlemania." That show ran two years on Broadway beginning in 1977. Do the math.
"Rain" unfolds as a live highlights reel of the Brit band's career. A reenactment of the Beatles' debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show" in 1964, with tunes like "I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "All My Lovin' " gets things started.
Next up, the ground-shaking Shea Stadium performance, complete with vintage concert footage of girls swooning. Then, onto the "Sgt. Pepper" period -- trippy Day-Glo costumes included -- and, finally, "Abbey Road" and an encore of, natch, "Hey Jude." Reruns of 1960s TV commercials shown on screens help keep the mood light between sets as scenery and hairpieces are changed.
A rotating cast of 15 plays the iconic Liverpudlians. Five musicians are listed as principals, with 10 alternates. When I saw the show, no one looked much like their character. At times that doesn't even matter. Joey Curatolo, the Paul McCartney at my performance, occasionally broke character to talk about Sir Paul in the third person.
At each performance, a player on a computerized keyboard helps the players replicate the various versions of the Beatles sound. Make that, sounds. "Rain" is a reminder of how the group reinvented itself during its tenure, in looks and music.
It's also proof of the Beatles' enduring, generation-crossing cool. In a canny move, "Rain" showers attention on that fact. Every age group got an appreciative mention, from boomers raised on the Beatles to teens just discovering the group is something to twist and shout about.
For once there's truth in advertising. "Rain -- A Tribute to The Beatles" is just that: A quartet called Rain dresses up like The Beatles and reproduces their songs in a Broadway theater.
If that sounds like "Beatlemania" -- the first Beatles experience on the Great White Way -- you're not far off. The difference is that, 33 years down the road, tribute bands have become a thriving industry, covering everything from ABBA to Zappa. Whenever you need to hear "Strawberry Fields Forever" live, you can catch the Fab Faux or 1964 the Tribute, among a dozen other touring entities.
Another big difference is that jukebox musicals have become very popular -- and unlike this show they have plots, or at least fig leaves passing for plots. Ironically, a paragon of the genre, "Jersey Boys," plays right across the street from "Rain." This makes charging Broadway prices for a greatest-hits concert an iffy proposition, even if the performance I caught was packed with happy baby boomers and younger folk on a classic-rock trip.
The group certainly can't be faulted on technical grounds. Rain plays the classics with a reverence and precision that would make Talmudic scholars weep. Over the course of nearly 2½ hours, they revisit The Beatles' discography in chronological order, from "I Want To Hold Your Hand" all the way to "Let It Be." (The show's encore closer is the mother of all sing-alongs.)
And that's it.
Some multimedia action happens on two large video screens, alternating shots of the audience with vintage commercials and footage suggesting the passing years. But this fluff mostly fills in the blanks while the musicians change costumes and wigs, and adjust their facial hair according to the year and the guru.
There's a bit of a cheat when Rain performs "Give Peace a Chance," a Lennon song that was released by the Plastic Ono Band in 1969. But other than that, every mustache, every bass line is historically correct.
Joey Curatolo (Paul) and Steve Landes (John) are exacting sound- and look-alikes, while Joe Bithorn (George) and Ralph Castelli (Ringo) are adept players but uneven singers. (Castelli is particularly nasal on "With a Little Help From My Friends.")
They've had plenty of practice: Rain has been touring since the mid-'70s, and the four members have done time in "Beatlemania."
In the end, "Rain" is as good as you want it to be. It hits all the right notes, but an imitation is still an imitation.
Another boomer theme park ride has been installed on Broadway, conveniently just opposite the peppy musical about those crooners from New Jersey. “Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway,” a tricked-up cover band concert that opened on Tuesday night at the Neil Simon Theater, gives audiences a chance to sing along, twist and shout, and generally make like swooning teenyboppers from the 1960s as the hits roll by and the endorphins kick in.
Consider it enhanced karaoke, like a collective night in front of a giant television playing the new Beatles video game, but without requiring the kind of hand-eye coordination and technological savvy so vexing to the middle-aged.
Unlike “Jersey Boys” and “Million Dollar Quartet,” the other current Broadway songfests devoted to pop music from the 1950s and ’60s, “Rain” dispenses entirely with storytelling, wisely assuming that the history of the Beatles will be well known to anyone interested in buying a ticket.
It’s a straight-up concert featuring performers giving musical impersonations of John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr, as they move from the skinny-tie and shaking-hip era to the psychedelic and the activist years. “Beatlemania” by another name, in essence. (Let us pause to reflect grimly on how that tribute show, which played more than a thousand performances on Broadway in the latter half of the 1970s, can be looked back on as an aesthetic pioneer.)
All four of the performers in “Rain” — Joey Curatolo (fake Paul), Steve Landes (John), Joe Bithorn (George) and Ralph Castelli (Ringo) — also logged stints in various iterations of “Beatlemania.” Their biographies are remarkably similar in other respects, too. Mr. Landes “taught himself guitar at 10 by listening to Beatles records,” according to the program. Mr. Curatolo “taught himself guitar at age 10 and played piano by ear at age 16.” Mr. Castelli “by age 6 became passionate about playing drums.” Mr. Bithorn “developed the ability to learn guitar parts by ear by age 14” — a late bloomer!
Youthful prodigies no longer, they are nevertheless fine musicians and capable vocal impersonators, although the wigs and costumes do a lot of the physical impersonating. Slap a shaggy wig, some specs and a silly satin military coat on me, and I’d probably be a convincing Lennon lookalike of the Sgt. Pepper era.
Mr. Curatolo wags his head ferociously in the early sequences, devoted to the historic first appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” and the 1965 concert at Shea Stadium. He’s like a McCartney bobblehead doll (although to my eyes he looks more like Donny Osmond). The voice matches the sweet timbre of Mr. McCartney’s persuasively, and the phrasing is admirably precise in its mimicry. Oddly, the Brooklyn-born Mr. Curatolo, who does most of the talking, retains his Liverpudlian accent when he steps out of character to chat with the crowd about the glory that was the Fab Four.
Mr. Landes’s voice might be a less clean match for Lennon’s, but he imitates the nasal twang effectively, and moves with impressive ease between guitar and piano. (The music in the show is performed live, with another performer, Mark Beyer, providing support on keyboard and percussion.) Mr. Bithorn steps to the solo spotlight on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” although he is distractingly saddled with a ghastly wig and a bad mustache that reminded me of something the British comic Benny Hill might wear with a wink and a leer. Mr. Castelli thwacks away in the background, looking appropriately laid-back.
All appear to be having a good time and succeeded in giving the enraptured audience at the performance I caught a good time, too. I am by parental conditioning more a Rolling Stones fan than a Beatles adorer and cannot claim to be an expert on the intricacies of the music.
Still, I knew all but a couple of the 30 songs performed, and for the most part the music sounded like a reasonable sonic facsimile of the originals, minus anything resembling spontaneity or authenticity. (In the interests of research, I invited a Beatles devotee to join me, but she reacted as if I’d asked her to come along for two weeks of jury duty.)
The show runs more than two hours with an intermission, allowing for a generous if predictable selection of songs. (A little oddly, the tune that gives the show its obscure title, originally released as the B side of “Paperback Writer,” is not performed.) There are regular invitations to sing along, which is just as well, because many in the audience choose to do so uninvited. We are also asked to clap our hands on cue and rise and dance during the perkier numbers.
Screens on the sides of the stage provide scene-setting video montages that are often more fun to watch than the performers: period commercials for Prell shampoo and Winston cigarettes, randomly gyrating dancers, teenage girls in the throes of hysteria, Twiggy. Animated sequences and groovy light shows take over when we enter the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Further enhancing the interactive aspect of the evening are pop quizzes flashed onto the video screens before the show begins, allowing fans to test their level of Beatles expertise. I was stumped by a lot of them, I’m sorry to say, but I can assert with conviction that the inspiration for “Hey, Jude” was not Judith Krantz.
For anyone who has spent the past decade lamenting the rise of jukebox musicals, Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles on Broadway (* * ½ out of four) is either a new low point or a refreshingly honest enterprise.
Rain, which opened Tuesday at the Neil Simon Theatre, is technically not a jukebox musical — or any other kind, since it lacks a libretto. That means there's no sentimental account of a real band's rise and struggles, à la Jersey Boys, and no ludicrous plot strung together to accommodate a catalog of hits, à la Mamma Mia!
Rain is rather named after a group of musicians, alumni of touring productions of the 1977 Broadway musical Beatlemania, who have played the Fab Four's music together for more than two decades. Their show is essentially a concert, presenting — or at least imagining — The Beatles in performance throughout their astonishingly short but storied career.
This homage may share the general purpose of Broadway's jukebox fare: to capitalize on the nostalgia of casual theater and music fans, and on their preference for familiar tunes and pop-culture references. But Rain doesn't pretend or aspire to be anything more than a well-executed trip down memory lane. And as that, it basically succeeds.
Though the members of Rain aren't billed or introduced as John, Paul, George and Ringo, it's pretty obvious who's representing whom. Joey Curatolo is the most authentic impersonator, evoking McCartney both with his sweet tenor and cuddly, ingratiating banter between songs. Ralph Castelli keeps the beat, Starr-like, with an easy muscularity and an ever-ready grin.
In contrast, Steve Landes' Lennon-esque vocals are too aggressively nasal, and during a recent preview, Joe Bithorn struggled with the top notes on Harrison's While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
Though it's plain that all four men are considerably older than The Beatles were when they disbanded, their energy is convincingly youthful. They're also solid musicians, ably supported by Mark Beyer, who evokes a variety of instruments on keyboards and percussion. (He's basically the Billy Preston of the bunch.) This is crucial, because Rain includes songs from the more sonically adventurous, texturally dense albums recorded after 1966, the year of The Beatles' final tour.
The show opens with Rain re-creating The Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, then follows them to Shea Stadium, Sgt. Pepperand the cultural revolution. Changing haircuts and sartorial statements are supplemented with video footage documenting the vastly changing world The Beatles inherited, from cheesy early-'60s TV commercials to footage of Martin Luther King Jr. and Vietnam protesters.
Many in the crowd seemed old enough to remember these images, though as Curatolo happily noted, there were some whippersnappers in attendance as well. That's surely a credit to The Beatles' songs, which have proven a lot more memorable — and, as Rain proves at its best, more theatrical — than most Broadway scores of late.
The Beatles are back -- or at least the Beatles tribute band Rain, which has been singing the songs and donning the costumes for more than 25 years. Troupe has finally brought its act to Broadway with a concert playing 12 weeks at the Neil Simon, filling a scheduling vacuum prior to the March previews of "Catch Me If You Can." Show should find enough diehard Beatles fans to fill the seats and sell the souvenirs, although there is little of the excitement or danger of the original foursome, or much electricity, either.
Rain's Fab Four can be considered a reasonable facsimile of the original, although you're not likely to see teenagers tearing down barricades to mob them as if they were Justin Bieber. At one press preview of "Rain," the most enthusiastic patrons seemed to be those in the over-60 set -- living the dream, literally, of "When I'm Sixty-Four." The under-16 crowd, too, loved it.
These performers -- who seem to be in the 45-55 age range (unlike the originals, who were just under 30 at the time of the breakup) -- come across as proficient stand-ins with a good feel for the music. Show at the Simon presents the frontline members of the group, although the program lists 10 additional players slated to appear "at certain performances."
Joey Curatolo charmingly and convincingly fronts the band as the Paul McCartney stand-in. Alongside Steve Landes as John Lennon and Ralph Castelli as Ringo Starr, Joe Bithorn remains more or less hidden centerstage as George Harrison until later in the show, when he provides a notably good perf of Harrison-penned tune "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."
Production centers on five distinct stages of the Beatles' development: The "Ed Sullivan Show" appearance in 1964, the Shea Stadium concert in 1965, the "Sgt. Pepper" era of 1966, the flower power days of the Summer of Love (circa 1967-68), and the Abbey Road recordings of 1969-70. That means changes of wardrobe and makeup, covered by vintage film footage (including a humorous Winston cigarette commercial featuring Flintstones characters). The format seems to work just fine for fans, giving them 30 favorite tunes along the way.
Rain began in the late 1970s as a small-time Beatles band touring Southern California, although the troupe turned more professional in the mid-'80s with an influx of alumni from touring productions of 1977 Broadway outing "Beatlemania." "Rain" does not generate the same excitement as "Beatlemania" for reasons that are understandable: The former Beatles were still very much alive at the time, and their first wave of teenaged fans were still mostly in their 20s.
Nonetheless, "Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles" has another company currently on a U.S. tour (this week San Jose, next week New Orleans); there is clearly a sizable audience in the States for recreations of the Beatles. "Rain" provides them the nostalgic parade of the songs that made the band famous, packaged in a streamlined concert that will not disappoint the faithful.