BWW Reviews: ROCK & ROLL'S GREATEST LOVERS Shares the Inspirational John Lennon and Yoko Ono Love Story
The World Premiere of ROCK & ROLL'S GREATEST LOVERS, with music by Anzu Lawson and Joerg Stoeffel, book and lyrics by Anzu Lawson, tells the Romeo and Juliet story of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, two rebels from opposite ends of the world who stood together in the name of LOVE only to face every kind of hate and tribulation. The 60 minute production of selected songs from the play is directed by Nell Teare, presented at the Lillian Theater during the 2014 Hollywood Fringe Festival.
Playwright Anzu Lawson also portrays Yoko Ono in the production and dedicates the play to Yoko Oko for her strength of spirit to carry the message of love to us, still to this day, and for anyone who has ever been misunderstood for standing in the authenticity.
Any of us who are fans of the Beatles know the story of how John met Yoko at an art gallery where she was exhibited her unique art pieces at the same time the Beatles were considering breaking up the band. People passing through the gallery sing "I Don't Understand" reflecting both how the world reacted to her art as well as their initial, mutual forbidden attraction given each was already married with a child. But after climbing to the top of a "White Ladder" and using a magnifying glass to read the word YES, John was smitten by her artistic vision. This scene is lovingly portrayed by Lawson as Yoko and Tom Mesmer as John Lennon, letting us see their first encounter when Yoko had no idea who John was and he mistaken bit into an apple sitting on a table which was one of her exhibition pieces. These two talented performers allow us into the hearts and souls of these two beloved characters, always keeping their portrayals honest and authentic.
As their soul mate attraction builds ("Wonderful"), John's wife Cynthia (Erin Muir) confronts him about her during their trip to India while Yoko's husband Tony Cox (Casey Hayden) questions her obsession and what it is doing to her daughter during "Half a Moon." The song is performed in front of split screen images of the two places, showing that even when they are half a world apart, they are still in each other's hearts. Yes these two are the two half Moons that need to be together to make both their loves full and complete. Seeing the show on Friday the 13th with a full moon looming above made the experience all the more special for me, a lifelong Beatles fan.
The play skips ahead 18 months to when John and Yoko are living together in New York from their infamous "bag" event to the constant surveillance by the Nixon administration and local cops breaking in to search for drugs in the hope to get Lennon deported. Throughout the trials and tribulations, the two incredible actors embody all the emotional turmoil from deep within their souls.
Throughout the show we are treated to film clips and photos from the time as well as their personal lives. Yoko's early hatred of war is reflected in the opening moments of the play as bombs fall on Tokyo during her childhood in World War II. Soldiers appear in silhouette behind the sheer screen, just as later we see John being senselessly shot.
While working on the album "Double Fantasy," Yoko receives a call from David Geffen who agrees to release the album exactly the way they want it done. Though initially poorly received when it was released in 1980, the album is notable for its association with Lennon's murder three weeks after its release, whereupon it became a worldwide commercial success, and went on to win the 1981 Album of the Year at the 24th Annual Grammy Awards.
I spoke with Ansu Lawson after the performance to thank her for bringing such an inspiring show to the stage at a time when love and peace need to be stressed in the world. She had goosebumps up her arms as I described the memorial service I attended for John after his death which included hundreds of people dancing in a circle, much in the same way the ensemble performed many numbers in the show, which brought tears to my eyes.
Such a special man was John Lennon, and after seeing ROCK & ROLL'S GREATEST LOVERS, I now better understand his partnership with Yoko Ono and how their inspired each other to live out their dreams. Though fraught with challenges and tribulations, their message of PEACE & LOVE is more relevant today than it was the day they shocked the world by appearing naked on the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine. The vision is to tell the unprecedented and still untold story of a love that changed the world and defined an era. May we all be lucky enough to live our own dreams in a world where peace and love really exist between all people and war is dead. And we will have John Lennon and Yoko Ono to thank for that vision.
You have two more chances to see ROCK & ROLL'S GREATEST LOVERS during The Hollywood Fringe Festival on Saturday, June 21 at 8:15 PM and Sunday, June 29 at 3:45 PM. The Lillian Theater is located at 1076 Lillian Way, Los Angeles, CA 90038.
For tickets and more about the show, go to: www.hollywoodfringe.org/projects/1800.