When entering the Warner Theater to see “Rain: The Beatles Experience,” I was little equipped for what would follow.
Armed only with a promise that it would be the “next best thing to seeing the Beatles live” and an introduction/desperate solicitation for listeners by a local radio station, the lights dimmed and the typical list of theater-going caveats began. “Ladies and gentleman,” a solemn tone boomed, but then quickly gave into something a tad more mischievous and coy, “we ask your participation in not smoking – anything.”
A montage of projected images were shown on a screen, accompanied in quick succession with sound bites of music from the 50s and 60s. Beach bunnies and screaming prepubescent gals merged with the Kennedy assassination and Fidel Castro, eventually culminating into the now famous 1964 Ed Sullivan introduction for the Fab Four.
As the stage lit up, the first thing illuminated was the foppish and somewhat forced grin of Ringo Starr. Before I knew what had hit me, the Beatles, or whatever else this was, burst into the opening chords of “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
What was on stage was the most famous cover and tribute band for the Beatles. Created nearly 20 years ago, the predominantly New York-based Joey Curatolo (Paul McCartney), Steve Landes (John Lennon), Joe Bithorn (George Harrison) and Ralph Castelli (Ringo Starr) spent the last two decades learning — in perfect imitation — every intonation, gesture and style of the respective Beatle member. The end result is a split somewhere between cruise ship cabaret and cultural revolution.
Dressed in exact replica of the Ed Sullian show suits, the band belted out the same score sang on the show. Any hard-core Beatles fan (which, judging from the majority of baby boomers around me, were mostly original fans) would have been hard pressed to note any differentiations in the entire set.
The only slightly off-putting aspect was the performers themselves. Although each member of “Rain” drew a striking resemblance, two decades of make-believe pop culture phenomenon had started to take its toll. The heavy make-up of McCartney (Cuartolo) did succeed in mimicking Paul’s doe-eyed enthusiasm, but at the expense of creating a much more garish grin and somewhat transgender visage.
As the show progressed, each shift in Beatles stages were prefaced by songs of the era, set and appropriate costume changes, and popular commercials. Flashy Volkswagen Karmenn Ghias and the Flintstones advertising cigarettes introduced my personal favorite part of the show: the Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band set.
Ornate costumes were a tad too gaudy, perhaps pushed over the top by the fog machine, multicolored lighting effects and psychedelic images. “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” ended, the band took a brief intermission, and so started the, if possible, even livelier second act.
Voiceovers from the band, detailing the music and mantra of the “Summer of Love” (both real Beatles’ quotes and nostalgic “retrospectives”), were mediocre, along with an uninspired and way too cutesy “unplugged” session, where the band joked about what to name various songs, wondering what would be a hit.
However, the following White Album era, with blinding white spotlights – a bit too literal for my taste — and images of both Vietnam and hippies, was one of the most impressive parts of the show. One could see that “Rain” truly felt like the real Beatles at this part, albeit with a much too clean wig on George Harrison.
Finally, although the band had been encouraging “sing alongs” throughout the entire show, by the time the last song, “Let It Be,” began to play, the entire audience was standing up, dancing in the aisles, and waving their arms.
The image was slightly tempered with “John Lennon” ogling the drunken blonde in the front row, but regardless, it was the closet thing to “Peace, Love, and Happiness” a post-Woodstock person could see. In retrospect, the entire show was inspiring, to say the least. With a little bit of squinting and an open mind, “Rain” could be just the phantasmagoria the group intended it to be.
Rain played at the Warner Theatre last weekend, and is scheduled to play in The France-Merrick Performing Arts Center in MD this upcoming weekend. Visit www.raintribute.com for more information.