BWW Review: A TRIP ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, Bob Hope Theatre
In 2007, Across the Universe brought the songs of The Beatles to a new generation in the form of a jukebox musical film that incorporated 34 of the band's songs, from the very famous to the more obscure numbers in their back catalogue. Rather than being a band biography, it brought a new story to the screen from Julie Taymor (also director), Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais, and starred Jim Sturgess and Evan Rachel Wood.
The film is set in the 60s and manages to cover a huge range of American political and social events, such as the Vietnam War, as well as incorporating some psychedelia. Inspired by the film, New Zealand-based director (and lifelong Beatles fan) Stuart James put together a concert version that was originally performed in Wellington, and is now gracing the stage of Eltham's Bob Hope Theatre. The original creative team is on board, with a group of local performers and musicians bringing it back to life.
When you first enter the auditorium, glow stick in hand, the sight of the stage is incredibly striking. Designed by James himself, it's an evocative mixture of nods to the film and what we've come to associate with the Summer of Love period in 20th century history. Boldly designed rugs adorn the floor, a huge peace sign hangs from the ceiling, and individual pictures of The Beatles are dotted across the stage.
Without the pressure of maintaining a narrative, not all of the film's songs have been included and the order has been tweaked slightly to suit this concert production. The performers are also not forced to remain as one particular character, so to speak, which allows different people to have their moment in the spotlight on top of various ensemble numbers. It runs slickly from one performance to the next, the majority of the time being kept on the stage, but in an ingenious move act one closer "I Am The Walrus" sees the entire company (bar John Goodwin, singing) appear in the auditorium, wandering freely around the audience and as if on a trip.
Of the solo performances, Jade Sylvia Thomson absolutely stands out; her rendition of "I Want To Hold Your Hand" is spine-tingling, remaining utterly true to the film's version of the song. The most fun moments are definitely when the entire cast is onstage and performing together - backed by a brilliant band made up of Hayden Taylor (keyboard), Oscar Rees (guitar), Will Franden (bass) and John Clark (drums). Whether it's the toe-tapping "Hold Me Tight", the sumptuous harmonies of "Because" or the togetherness coming from "Dear Prudence" and "All You Need Is Love", it's clear everyone is having a whale of a time.
To me, this concert production - as well as being an enjoyable event in its own right - serves to demonstrate how loved The Beatles still are (by all ages) and how ripe this story is for a stage show of its own. If the hectic world of Baz Luhrmann's Moulin Rouge! can be brought to the stage, why can't this?
Picture credit: Robert Piwko