Tuesday, February 5, 2013

'Backbeat: The Birth Of The Beatles' At Ahmanson

It’s been nearly 50 years since the Beatles took America by storm with their British Invasion. The musical assault, which took place in February of 1964, left an indelible mark on the music industry – changing it virtually overnight.  It would never be the same again.

The story of how The Beatles went from obscurity to rock star status is told in the lively musical, Backbeat, currently having its U.S. premiere at the Ahmanson. The original production of the show opened at the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow, on Tues., Feb. 9, 2010.

The musical, which sticks pretty closely to historical facts, is inspired by the movie about the birth of the Beatles, which had the same name.

The show, which takes place in Liverpool, Hamburg and London between 1960-1963, begins with a man in a black suit walking downstage center to a microphone where he proclaims that he is going to tell the true story of a popular 1960s’ singing group.

The time is 1960. The place is Liverpool.  Some lads who live for and love to play music decide to give it a go as a professional band. 

In 1956/57, those lads were called the Quarrymen, but later, in 1960, the band was renamed The Beetles.  By May of that year they were touring Scotland as the Beatals, then The Silver Beatles, before settling on the Beatles with Pete Best as the drummer.

They started out as John, Paul, George, Stuart (Sutcliffe) and Pete (Best), but eventually came to be known as John, Paul, George and Ringo.

This production shines light on an interesting tale – namely how much of an impact both Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe had on the group.

It’s interesting to see the behind the scenes goings on of a group that quickly became a powerhouse musical sensation.
The audience is privy to spats, personal flaws, firings, deaths, love stories, relationships, friendships, humble beginnings, how songs were written, performance deals and more.

The story takes the audience from the time The Beatles embarked on their journey from the docks of Liverpool to the red light district of Hamburg. There they worked in the clubs of the tawdry Reeperbahn, performing rock ‘n’ roll covers night after night, all the while honing what would become the Beatles’ sound. 

A huge focus of this show is the relationship Stuart Sutcliffe (Nick Blood) had with a German photographer named Astrid Kirchherr (Leanne Best).  Sutcliffe, who was brought into the group by John Lennon in 1960, even though he wasn’t very good at playing an instrument, has always been described as the “forgotten” Beatle. 
 Sutcliffe suffered an unfortunate early death from a brain hemorrhage in April of 1962.

The main reason why anyone goes to see this show is for the music. And the music doesn’t disappoint.  It features both Beatles songs and songs they covered, including rock ‘n’ roll classics like “Twist & Shout,” “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Rock 'n' Roll Music,” “Good Golly Miss Molly,” “Please Mr. Postman,” “Long Tall Sally” and “Money.”  

The voice of Daniel Healy, who plays Paul McCartney in the show, is clear, crisp and melodic.

The guys, who are actually playing the guitars and drums – have a future as a group at the end of the show’s run.
There are some solid performances from the cast, although some of the dialogue is lost either to the thick London accents or the acoustics, or both.

The set is usually dark with its steel staircases and catwalks, but suffices.

Director David Leveaux is creative with his direction. He gives Backbeat a rather gritty, underground feel and makes great use of videos and graphics.

The cast features Nick Blood (as Stuart Sutcliffe), Leanne Best (Astrid Kirchherr), Andrew Knott (John Lennon), Oliver Bennett (Pete Best), Daniel Healy (Paul McCartney) and Daniel Westwick (George Harrison).  Rounding out the rest of the cast are ensemble members Edward Clarke, Josie Dunn, Sam Ford, Mark Hammersley, Perry Ojeda, Charlotte Palmer, Phil Pritchard, Dominic Rouse, Louise Shuttleworth, Adam Sopp, Charles Swift, James Wallace and Miranda Wilford.

Backbeat is presented by Karl Sydow in association with Glasgow Citizens Theatre. It’s adapted for the stage by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys and is based on the Universal Pictures film written by Softley, Michael Thomas and Stephen Ward.

Backbeat next lands on Broadway.

On the Donloe Scale: D (don’t bother), O (oh, no), N (needs work) L (likeable), O (OK) and E (excellent), Backbeat gets an O (OK).

Backbeat: The Birth of The Beatles, Center Theatre Group/Ahmanson Theatre, 135 N. Grand Ave., Los Angeles; 8 p.m. Tues.-Fri., 2 and 8 p.m. Sat., 1 and 6:30 Sun. through March 1, 2013; 2 p.m. show Thur., Feb. 14 and Feb. 21. No 6:30 p.m. show on Sun., Feb. 17 and Feb. 24; $20-$110; www.CenterTheatreGroup.org

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