The promise of hearing Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band performed live in its entirety drove me to RAIN, the Beatles' tribute band playing at the Oriental Theater. But the show is much more than that.
Perfectly controlled, with exactingly beat and chord progressions, RAIN lovingly renders selections from the Beatles repertoire to the ‘T’. The group has been playing for years - longer than the originals. A new generation of performers, all born after the Beatles stopped recording, has taken up the torch at RAIN to keep the songs alive.
It was founded by Mark Lewis, who began in the 1970's as a Beatles cover artist, and recruited the original players and made many of the arrangements they perform. Aaron Chiazza plays Ringo Starr; Paul Curatolo plays Paul McCartney; Steve Landes is John Lennon; and Alastar McNeil is George Harrison.
The players are not so much actors, as they are masters of performing as their Beatles characters. So while they are fully realized in musical performance, they can be a little wooden in beckoning to audience participation. Paul Curatolo succeeds most, channeling the warmth of Paul McCartney pretty closely, and he looks quite a bit like him. When Aaron Chiazza's Ringo Starr sings his solo, "With a Little Help from My Friends," he brings the house down by evoking one of many people's favorite Beatles personalities. Though the real Beatles were ready handy with social commentary, these Beatles do not make much small talk, commenting neither on current - or past - events. It's all about the music. And that's just fine.
Most of us never heard the Beatles perform live in person, so hearing their music in a concert setting is striking, but also a little unsettling in a real venue. The group is not exactly impersonating the Beatles, and there is inevitably some personal expression involved. But they do have the various songs nailed down pretty well.
This show at the Oriental Theatre also gives us a hint of how it would have felt to hear the band play their own works on stage themselves.
At the point when they recorded Sgt. Pepper (it was released in 1967) the Beatles had mostly ended live performances, and were doing studio albums and seeing themselves not as rockers, but artists. It wasn’t too long after when they broke up, recording their last album Abbey Road in 1969, and ultimately heading their own ways. (Let It Be was recorded in 1969, prior to Abbey Road, but released afterward.)
The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band was recorded over a four-month period from December 6, 1966 – April 21, 1967. Released on June 1, 1967, it is considered to be the greatest rock album ever released. It was also the first concept album. So for the 50th anniversary of its release, RAIN has essentially created a performance art piece, and it is pretty awesome - and well worth seeing.
The album is just 40 minutes long, so it forms the core of the second act at the Oriental Theatre performances. The first half retraces the Beatles rise from Liverpool to global phenomenon. With a strongly representative selection of the history of Beatles music, it provides a wonderful context for the performance of Sgt, Pepper in toto.
Visual backgrounds are nicely done, though if I may quibble, I expected a horse for "of course, Henry the horse, dances the waltz" rather than a cartoon carousel figure. I was also hoping for a full orchestra for the monumental "A Day in the Life." The original recording used 40 classical musicians who were instructed to play gradually from their individual instruments' lowest notes to its highest, and to go gradually from the quietest to the loudest, over the course of 40 bars. That sound is pretty distinctive, and is simulated by RAIN's "fifth Beatle" Mark Beyer, who fills in all the synthesized music along the way.
The show at the Oriental Theatre, a launch of the 2017 Tour, runs through April 2 here in Chicago, with remaining performances at 8 p.m. April 1, and 2 and 8 pm on April 2. Tickets are at www.BroadwayInChicago.com