Sunday, May 20, 2018
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Broadway tries to roll back the years with the Beatles

NEW YORK -- Only really at the end of Rain -- A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway does it hit you why so many people are happily paying to see four dudes imitate the Fab Four.

It's not the two-hour concert of pitch-perfect reproductions of Battles music, including "Hard Day's Night," "Yesterday," "Twist and Shout," "Eleanor Rigby," ''Strawberry Fields," and "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

It's not the guys on stage themselves -- Joey Curatolo (vocals, bass, guitar, piano), Joe Bithorn (vocals, lead guitar, guitar synthesizer), Ralph Castelli (vocals, drums), and Steve Landes (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica) -- though they are excellent musicians and do mostly passable impressions of Paul, George, Ringo, and George.

And it's not the production values, which involve simple backdrops, increasingly trippy projections as the 1960s roll on, and quite a lot of wigs. Screens on either side of the stage show archival footage of fans freaking out, animation, and TV commercials from the era.

No, there's something else going on here and it becomes clear at the end.

After the band has left the stage following "Give Peace a Chance," the audience at the Neil Simon Theatre is in no mood to go home. They want an encore. They desperately want their Beatles back. No matter how.

Fans, some with gray hair and some without any, clap and dance happily in the seats to many songs. For those who never got to see the Beatles in person, this might be the next best thing. There seems to be a collective willing by the crowd that these four on stage are the real thing.

The show, known for its extensive tour throughout the U.S., hits Broadway Tuesday as a strange fit for the Neil Simon. It's a concert by musicians who rarely say anything as they perform someone else's songs in character.

It starts with Beatles trivia questions broadcast on the screens as audience members take their seats. (The questions include "Who was the Beatles' original drummer?" and "Which was the last album the Beatles recorded as a group?") A video montage then sets the mood -- archival footage of the moon landing, JFK, Vietnam.

"Get ready to go back in time to those magical '60s," says an unseen announcer.

The faux Fab Four then appear singing "I Want to Hold Your Hand" as they mimic the Beatles' appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, then mutate into their Shea Stadium concert in 1965. We see them mature -- and change outfits -- during the show until they finish in their "Abbey Road" days.

Created by veterans of the revue Beatlemania, this tribute show feeds off a seemingly endless appetite for all things Paul, John, George, and Ringo. But after a show like this, the only impression that is left are those classic songs. And that's as it should be.

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