Chicago Theater Review: RAIN: A TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES (Oriental Theater in Chicago)

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by Dan Zeff on June 27, 2012

in Theater-Chicago,Tours


The baby boomers were out in force at the Oriental Theatre Tuesday night, reveling in a Beatles nostalgia fest called Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles. The show is a note-for-note replication of about 30 of Beatles’ greatest, and not so greatest, songs, as performed by four young men who try very hard, and with considerable success, to impersonate John, Paul, George, and Ringo more than 40 years after the Fab Four broke up.

Dan Zeff’s Chicago Review of the Tour of Rain at the Oriental

Rain is a 21st century outgrowth of Beatlemania, a major hit on Broadway from 1977 through 1979 that spread throughout the United States and overseas, including stops in Chicago and the suburbs. Indeed, the two shows are identical, and a number of performers from the earlier show have graduated to doing similar duty in Rain, which traces the musical history of the Beatles from its first flush of glory in the early 1960’s to its conclusion in 1970. The show is pure concert, no storyline and very little dialogue (and no references to the acrimony that led to the dissolution of the band). The four performers do all the singing (no lip sync games played here) and try very hard to look like the originals, down to the haircuts and costumes.  The accents sound reasonably Liverpudlian in accuracy and the lads toss in some familiar Beatles physical mannerisms for additional verisimilitude.

Dan Zeff’s Chicago Review of the Tour of Rain at the Oriental

Dan Zeff’s Chicago Review of the Tour of Rain at the OrientalIn case audiences don’t find the music sufficient to engage their attention for the entire evening, the show floods the theater with sensory overload – film clips and psychedelic images projected on video screens on either side of the stage and at the rear of the playing area. The decibel count is considerable and the lighting effects dazzling, and sometimes blinding. And for early arrivals, there is an extensive Beatles trivia quiz flashed on the two side screens that test the spectator’s knowledge of Fab Four lore. Visually and aurally, there is never a dull moment.

On opening night, an alternate set of four performers held the stage in place of the usual Steve Landes, Joey Curatolo, Joe Bithorn, and Ralph Castelli. But I suspect the various sets of Beatle wannabes are interchangeable and the foursome on Tuesday night was well up to the mark: Jim Irizarry (John Lennon), Mac Ruffing (Paul McCartney), Douglas Cox (Ringo Starr), and Tom Teeley (George Harrison). Only Irizarry, a Chicago native, bore much facial resemblance to his character but they all sounded about right.  Cox was actually a more proficient drummer than Ringo, though he didn’t supply much of Ringo’s quirky charm and charisma. Additional keyboard and percussion accompaniment was provided by Mark Beyer.

Dan Zeff’s Chicago Review of the Tour of Rain at the OrientalThe show is mostly chronological, starting with the Beatles’ invasion of America with their appearance on the Ed Sullivan show in 1964 and continuing to the frenzied concert at Shea Stadium in New York City in 1965. The film of the hysterical girls reacting to their heroes is priceless. The music, of course,  is incandescent. The Beatles canon of the early- and mid-1960’s provided rock and roll at its exuberant and innocent best. The band may have turned more musically profound later in the decade, but they were irresistible in the “I Want to Hold Your Hand”/“Twist and Shout” period, climaxed by their movie debut in A Hard Day’s Night, still firmly entrenched as one of the five best movies I’ve ever seen.

The show covers about 30 Beatles songs, and still leaves out some of the major flag wavers, like “Michelle,” “Yellow Submarine,” and “Help!” There was a large helping of material from the “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album, and a strong extended version of “I Am the Walrus.” The show wrapped up with “Hey Jude,” the ultimate Beatles encore.

Dan Zeff’s Chicago Review of the Tour of Rain at the OrientalThe four performers showed some impressive chops on their instruments, including a sizzling three-guitar jam session. They tried to get the audience involved in the action, exhorting the patrons to sing along, clap, and even stand for some numbers, as if the audience needed prodding to have fun. Most annoying were the periodic queries from the stage, “Are you enjoying the show?” This begging for audience approval insults both the spectators and the performers and should be expunged forthwith.

First-time customers to a Beatlemania/Rain production may be surprised at how much show they are getting with their ticket. The concert revue doesn’t merely coast on the affection the audience obviously feels for the original Beatles. Plenty of hard work and craft has gone into re-creating the Beatles experience, and the visual effects are a pleasure. Particularly delightful are the TV commercial from the 1960’s plus film clips of the pop culture of the day, from teenagers doing the Twist to Flower Children cavorting in a park. For viewers of a certain age, this material is golden.

Dan Zeff’s Chicago Review of the Tour of Rain at the OrientalAll in all, the professionalism of Rain elevates it from a guilty pleasure for Beatles zealots into a really entertaining evening for which no apologies are necessary. Of course, some people will question why they should go to the theater to hear music performed second hand when the real thing is readily available on CDs, YouTube, and elsewhere. But there is a kick to hearing and seeing the Beatles songbook performed live. The opening night audience ate it all up. They arrived at the theater expecting to have a good time, and they did.

Why is the concert called Rain? Founder, manager, and original keyboardist Mark Lewis transformed a 1970s’ southern California bar band doing Beatles covers, originally called Reign, into an ultra-professional group (legend has it that they changed their name to Rain after local papers misspelled their name). Coincidentally, “Rain” is actually the title of an obscure Beatles song that was on the B side of “Paperback Writer.” And it’s not even performed in the show.

photos by Joan Marcus

national tour
ends on July 1, 2012 at Oriental Theater in Chicago
for tickets, call 800 775 2000 or visit Broadway in Chicago

continues on tour
for dates, cities and tickets, visit Rain Tribute

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