BWW Review: RAIN: 50 YEARS OF SGT. PEPPERS, London Palladium
Fifty years ago, The Beatles changed the face of pop music when they released the iconic Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band album. Billed by many as the first concept album, it marked a shift In Focus to the recording studio from the live performance arena, as the frustrated band simply wanted their music to be heard. This, of course, meant that they would never perform these songs live - something that Rain have decided to put right.
Hailing from all over America, Rain began life as a Beatles tribute band, before their repertoire was morphed into a Broadway show. Rather than telling a story around a selection of songs, it's more of a glorified concert that plays some highlights of the band's career in rough chronological order - though this year, because of the anniversary, Sgt. Pepper is played in its entirety in the midst of this.
The concept of this show is already familiar to London's West End thanks to Let It Be. Indeed, it's remarkable just how similar the two shows are, even down to the detail of the 60s ad break in the first half. There is a muddy history between the two shows (made by the same Production Company) that strikes a bit of a sour note, though thankfully these disputes seem to have been settled.
Shows of this nature are meat and drink for Beatles fans of all ages; whether you want to re-live your memories of the 60s, or you're not old enough to have had the chance of seeing The Beatles perform live, something like this is the perfect solution. The big problem with a concert-style show is the modern bane of a theatregoer's life: the mobile phone. Unlike Let It Be, audience photography is supposed to be prohibited, however this didn't seem to prevent a sea of camera screens shooting up in front of me - the inconsistent and lacklustre attempts from theatre staff to prevent it didn't seem to make a huge amount of difference.
It is remarkable that so many performers can still be found to make up the band, with enough of a passing resemblance to the Fab Four to get away with it when costumed up onstage, as well as the sound and musicianship of the original group. Performing on Friday night were Steve Landes (John Lennon), Paul Curatolo (Paul McCartney), Alastar McNeil (George Harrison), Aaron Chiazza (Ringo Starr) and Mark Beyer (keyboard and percussion). The mannerisms captured, particularly Curatolo's spot-on Macca actions, are extraordinary - it really does feel like you've travelled back in time to see The Beatles in their heyday.
The first half really whets your appetite for the Sgt. Pepper feast you know is coming, kicking off the evening with "She Loves You" back in the Cavern Club, before heading Across the Pond to the Ed Sullivan Show and Shea Stadium ("Ticket To Ride" is a standout), finishing off with a mixture from Revolver, Rubber Soul and the White Album. Lennon's "In My Life" provides a moment of poignancy and reflection, whereas McCartney's "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" is a fun reminder of the music hall days. Contender for highlight of the night has to be Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps", McNeil's virtuoso lead guitar earning him a mid-show standing ovation.
There's nothing quite like seeing four figures dressed in those famous colourful uniforms, and hearing Sgt. Pepper played from start to finish is definitely a treat for the ears as well. When they wrote it they could probably never imagine it ever being performed live - indeed a song like "Within You Without You" is only really made possible by the technological advances in keyboards and drum machines - but I can't think of a better way of celebrating the anniversary than this. Artistically, I would have loved it to end with "A Day in the Life", but you can't really argue with the crowd-pleaser "Hey Jude".
It may be a simple idea, but Rain prove that this is more than enough if you can execute it to an incredibly high standard. Perfect for Beatlemaniacs of all generations, it's a quality night out that can be enjoyed again and again. Peace and love.
Picture credit: Michael Christine