February 9, 2011

"Rain" is a Sunny Tribute to The Beatles

Before I went to see Rain, the concert tribute to the Beatles that reopened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre last night after a three-week hiatus, I wondered who would pay up to $120 to see a cover band. For there’s no book to this show, just a succession of some 30 Beatles songs, all, an announcer proudly declares at the top of the show, performed completely live by the guys on stage who are made up to look as much as they can like the Fab Four.

I knew that my sister Joanne was eager to see the show because Joanne is an unabashed fan of jukebox musicals.  She loves to sing along, or at least mouth the words, to songs that were popular when we were kids and she gets a real kick out of any audience participation stuff—be it waving hands in the air or standing up to shake your booty.  

It seems that all kinds of people feel the same way Joanne does.  The night we saw Rain, before it moved out of its original home at the Neil Simon Theatre where it played for 12 weeks last fall, there were whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics in the audience.  Of all ages. 

Three twentysomething girls in the row ahead of us couldn’t stop giggling and poking one another in the arm whenever they recognized a tune. A middle-aged dad had brought his tween daughter, who had brought along her homework to do but put it away as soon as the first chords were struck. A nearby boomer-aged guy couldn’t resist playing his air guitar and bopping side to side.  And the AARP couple sitting next to me hugged and swayed together to their favorites songs.

Eventually even I was won over.  Nearly every song sparked a memory of where I was when I first heard it or with whom I’d listened to it over and over again, as did the video projections of scenes from those years that give the audience something to look at besides the ersatz Beatles. 

I worried when they started playing a couple of the more obscure songs from the Beatles’ songbook and Joanne just sat quietly with her chin resting on her hand during those numbers.  But these folks have been touring the show around the country for a while now and they know their audience. In no time at all, they were back to the familiar stuff. 

It was fun, too, to track the evolution of The Beatles through the outfits they wore—the cute matching suits in the group’s mop-top phase, the candy-colored carnival regalia of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heats Club Band,” the flower-power duds from the “Magical Mystery Tour” period and the everyman-for-himself garb of “Abbey Road.” 

Plus, the guys in Rain, the name of the cover band, and an homage to a B-side Beatles song, are charming in their own right too.  All four—Steve Landes (the kind of John guy), Joey Curatolo (the almost Paul), Joe Bithorn (vaguely George) and Ralph Castelli (sort of Ringo)—are, according to the Playbill, lifelong Beatles fans and they’re so clearly delighted to be on any stage singing those songs that the joy is infectious.

You theater purists can laugh if you like.  But people were having a good time.  And what’s wrong with that?  Who says that there should be only one kind of show on Broadway?

Joanne, for one, couldn’t have been happier.  Her grin was so wide by the time the show ended that I thought it might circumnavigate her entire head. “This,” she said as we walked out of the theater, “is the best jukebox musical I’ve seen since Mamma Mia!”  She meant that entirely as a compliment. And, in this case, I do too.

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