Review: ‘Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles’ at The Merriam Theater in Philadelphia

From the British Invasion to the Psychedelic Sixties, the Fab Four from Liverpool defined the music and lifestyle of the watershed decade of our post-modern era. Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles recreates the ground-breaking chart-topping classics of the legendary band and the worldwide phenomenon of Beatlemania in an all-ages multimedia spectacular that stirs the memories of baby-boomers and brings together three generations of adoring fans.

The cast of 'Rain - A Tribute to the Beatles.' Photo by Richard Lovrich.
The cast of ‘Rain – A Tribute to the Beatles.’ Photo by Richard Lovrich.

Now back at the Merriam Theater for a limited engagement, the updated 2016 national tour of the 2010 Broadway hit, presented by Broadway Philadelphia, got off to a slow start on opening night, because of freezing temperatures and a power brown-out that affected Center City. But the show must go on, and go on it did, despite the doors opening late, ticket-holders from the family circle and amphitheater being relocated to the orchestra section, and a resultant 25-minute delay till curtain time. Was it worth the wait? Every note of it!

The newly expanded show includes more songs than the previous version, upgraded LED high-definition screens, and added pop-culture content, in a nostalgic audio-visual retrospective of the group, its discography, and its times. Historic clips from real Beatles’ concerts, TV appearances, and interviews–such as their premiere New York appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, which introduced them to America, and footage from their sold-out 1965 concert at Shea Stadium, filled to capacity with screaming, crying, and fainting fans–are interspersed with news footage and commercials of the period (including a black-and-white ad for Dippity-Do styling gel and a Flintstones’ cartoon promoting Winston cigarettes), background videos in harmony with the artistic evolution of the ‘60s designed by Aaron Rhyne and Darren McCaulley, and live feed of both the audience and the on-stage performance of the titular tribute band.

The remarkable sound-alike group (originally called Reign, and first founded by keyboardist Mark Lewis in the mid-1970s, when tribute bands didn’t yet exist) covers a total of 36 Beatles’ favorites. Their identical musical arrangements and vocals are delivered with “note-for-note” exactitude, from early songs like “She Loves You,” “Please Please Me,” and “I Want To Hold Your Hand” to such later studio recordings as “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” (which were never performed live in concert by the Beatles). They wear look-alike wigs and costumes, provided by Susan Valadez, that trace the group’s changing style, from the London-look mop-tops of Meet the Beatles in matching fitted suits, to the trippy visionaries of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (perhaps the single most influential album in rock-and-roll history) decked out in neon-colored satin outfits and long mustaches, to the individualized clothing and hairstyles of “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be,” when the members of the band decided to go their own separate ways.

The cast of 'Rain - A Tribute to the Beatles. Photo by Richard Lovrich.
The cast of ‘Rain – A Tribute to the Beatles.’ Photo by Richard Lovrich.

Along with Rain’s uncanny sound and authentic fashions, the four masterful singers/musicians/impersonators–Jimmy Irizarry (John Lennon), Paul Curatolo (Paul McCartney) Joe Bithorn (George Harrison), and Aaron Chiazza as Ringo Starr–capture to perfection the postures, gestures, facial expressions, and mannerisms, as well as the Liverpool accents and between-song banter, of the British icons. Every detail of the transportive performance is spot-on, as Paul winks, points, and flirts with the audience while playing his custom-made left-handed guitar, John chews gum as he sings, and all four shake their shaggy heads and make peace signs at the crowd. Fog machines, colorful spotlights, and kaleidoscopic patterns projected around the theater, provided by Lighting Designer Stephan Gotschel, evoke the varied moods of the specific songs and years.

It’s equally exhilarating and eerie to enjoy the Beatles’ music live again, long after their final concert in 1966, their public split in 1970, and the deaths of John Lennon (1980) and George Harrison (2001). So whether you missed them in the ‘60s, or have missed them since the ‘70s, you can get into the spirit of Beatlemania now and sing, dance, and rock along with Rain!

Running Time: Two hours, with one 20-minute intermission, plus a 15-minute encore.

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles plays through Sunday, February 14, 2016, at the Merriam Theater – 250 South Broad Street, in Philadelphia, PA. For tickets, call the box office at (215) 731-3333, or purchase them online.

Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles website.


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