All Things Entertaining and Cultural
The Beatles tribute that arrives perennially with the regularity of precipitation is a straightforward concert featuring the music of John Lennon and Paul McCartney and performed by able singer-musicians who capture the flavor of the Fab Four.
“Rain” never pretends to be a Beatles concert. Its performers may be garbed in costumes associated with the Liverpudlians, projected backgrounds show settings where the famous band is playing or has played, and the Beatles sound is sought after and found, but the actors in “Rain” never refer to themselves as Paul George, Ringo, or John. They always say they are a band called Rain, the name proudly emblazoned on Aaron Chiazzi’s drum kit.
That said, the faithfulness with which Rain, and “Rain,” covers Beatles songs, the care they take in being true to arrangements and vocal parts, and the musicianship that is immediately and constantly apparent add up to a congenial, energetic show chocked with favorite tunes and an easy approach that give you a good time and takes away all cares.
“Rain” never panders. Its members invite you to sing along, clap in rhythm, and increase your applause, but they do so in the way of friendly concert performers that want to please their crowd. In general, the show is smartly done and consistently enjoyable.
That’s because the members of Rain are talented professionals, all of whom have been involved in Beatles tributes for at least a decade. Steve Landes, who sings and plays John’s part, Paul Curatolo, who assays Paul, Joe Bithorn, who nails George’s great guitar riffs, and Chiazzi, a fine drummer know their job. It’s to entertain, and they do so with assurance and charisma.
They work at being in character. Curatolo looks most like the Beatle he portrays, Paul. He even trained himself to play the bass guitar left-handed to be in keeping with Paul’s style and movements. Landes has the posture and facial expressions to suggest John Lennon. Bithorn looks nothing like George, in face or physique, but make-up helps in later sequence when Bithorn dons a beard, and his instrumental work is excellent, George to a tee and perhaps more. Chiazzi does not resemble Starr, but, like his castmates, has taken on his character’s mannerisms and drumming technique. “Rain” is an enactment, and its performers play their parts admirably. Their own ability lends zest and fun to the Beatles material, not the other way around. Rain does all of its own singing and all of its magnificent guitar, piano, and keyboard playing. The front four are joined following the opening sequences by Mark Beyer on the keyboard console that can add horns, strings, and other instruments heard as Beatles orchestrations become more complex.
“Rain” tends to be sequential. Songs are not in exact order of release, but they are true to the period. Pieces from “Meet the Beatles” might be combined with other early albums and Top 10 hits while material from “Rubber Soul” and “Revolver” can be heard in the Sgt. Pepper segment. Whatever is sung is done with fidelty. Landes is particularly true to Lennon. Curatolo could pass for a young Paul McCartney. Harmonies and stage groupings are keyed to what The Beatles actually did.
“Rain” has been around for almost 40 years. (Quick, call Noah!) It was a rival to “Beatlemania,” the first Beatles tribute show that gained traction and subsumed its competition in the late ’90s. Since then, Mark Lewis’s creation has been touring internationally including to Liverpool, London, and German towns where The Beatles cut their teeth.
This year, Lewis upgraded the graphic in his production. When The Beatles sing on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” Rain is surrounded by projections of the set CBS designed for the occasion. When The Beatles to Shea Stadium, the projections become a baseball arena, complete with diamond. You see actual audiences cheering on the lads, often screaming their mid-1960s heads off. Between sequences, while the cast is changing costume or preparing their instruments for a new style of music, slides and video chronicle the history of The Beatles’ era (1964-1970). The actual Beatles are seen in these presentations, and you get enlightening background on the band being portrayed.
Rain makes its mark immediately with “She Loves You.” The less iconic “Please Please Me” and “From Me to You” follow, but all of the early hits are heard.
The Beatles’ movies, “Hard Day’s Night” and “Help” form the basis for the next segment, including a lovely rendition of my favorite tune from “Hard Day’s Night,” “To Dance With You.”
“Sgt. Pepper” costumes signal a new era that leads to the more transcendental sounds of Lennon and George Harrison and the “Abbey Road” and “White Album” selections. There’s arm waving to “All You Need is Love” and dancing in the aisles to “Twist and Shout,” performed out of sequence in the second half amid “Abbey Road” material. Predictably, but happily, “Hey Jude” closes the show with everyone in the house getting a chance to “Na na na na na.”
“Rain” is ever cheap or cheesy. It is as solid and sincere as a tribute show can be. I had passed it by in Philadelphia and Wilmington in recent years, or at least since its 2008 appearance on Broadway. I am glad I gave it another look. I walked out singing “Hey Jude” and have been doing my entire extensive Beatles repertory ever since, with some independent John Lennon and a lot of extracurricular Paul McCartney thrown in for good measure.
By the way, Ringo Starr appears with his All-Starr Band on Saturday, June 21 at Caesar’s in Atlantic City.
“Rain” runs through Sunday, June 15 at the Academy of Music, Broad And Locust Streets, in Philadelphia. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday. Tickets range from $85 to $20 and can be obtained by calling 215-893-1999 or going online to www.kimmelcenter.org.