To clarify up-front what “Rain” is and is not: It is first, foremost, and finally a concert, no more, no less. There is no back-story, front story or any narrative thread holding together this song-saturated “tribute” to the Fab Four. And unlike many rock and roll shows of this era, there are no gimmicks, special effects, fire-works, or exploding instruments. So, if any of you (there may be one or two recently rescued on a desert island) haven’t a clue regarding the who, what, where and why about the Beatles, you are out of luck.
All of those who choose to attend will, however, be lucky to hear the full range of the Beatles discography live, unadulterated, undistorted, with nothing pre-recorded — and all of it terrifically performed. Yes, it is a little static in its presentation, but then the Beatles were not wild men. All that could be enough . . . but is it really?
The modesty and restraint that this show exhibits, in which no director is given credit, is both its strength and its weakness. To be completely fair, an historical perspective is provided by three video screens. Upon these are displayed vintage TV and film footage, some very funny TV commercials of the era, cleverly conceived animated graphics, and other video and film snippets that recall the mid-20th century, including bombings during the Vietnam War. But it is the frenzy created mostly by teenagers with the arrival of the Beatles to the U.S. and the unprecedented response to their appearance on the Ed Sullivan television show in 1964 that prepares us for this concerted homage.
The four principal musicians who comprise Rain have proven, particularly in their many years of touring and honoring/extolling the music and musicianship of the original Beatles, that they are a marvelous, generous, and talented group in their own right. Expectedly Steve Landes (rhythm guitar, piano, harmonica), Joey Curatolo (bass, piano, guitar), Joe Bithorn (lead guitar, guitar synth, sitar), Ralph Castelli (drums, percussion) share the vocals as well as the accolades due them. A fifth musician, Mark Beyer, remains visible but in the shadows on keyboard and percussion. I suspect, if you close your eyes, you may let yourself be fooled into thinking you have been transported back to a live Beatles concert.
While the musicians don’t presume (they retain their own names in the program) to impersonate the individual members of the Beatles (John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Ringo Starr) they do assume specific looks with wigs (mop-top mania) and with their recognizable performance style. There is also a chronology of sorts, as specific songs have been clustered to indicate times and the places. Film footage of the August 15, 1965, concert at Shea Stadium provides an apt intro for a medley that includes “I Feel Fine,” “Day Tripper,” and “Twist and Shout.” This section succeeds in encouraging the audience to stand, clap, and shout in the Neil Simon Theater, if not with the same amount of group hysteria, as did the fans who erupted at Shea.
This participatory activity increases with intensity as the concert reflects the music that would align itself with the era that wallowed in the psychedelic, nurtured flower power, and embraced the hippy movement. Scenic designers Scott Christensen and Todd Skinner festoon the basic bandstand setting with palm trees and flower baskets as the band members, previously seen in dark suits and ties, don the fantastical but unaccredited costumes for the “Sgt. Peppers’ Lonely Hearts Club Band.”
Admittedly there has been little to compete with the melodic, and slightly melancholy, loveliness that marked such compositional milestones as “Eleanor Rigby,” “Strawberry Fields,” and “When I’m 64” — the latter rather sentimentally resonating with a verse sung virtually a capella by the audience.
Purists will be pleased that “Girl,” “We Can Work It Out,” and “I’ve Just Seen A Face” are strictly and reverentially consigned to acoustic guitars. How great it is that 45 years have not dimmed the brilliance of the Beatle canon, certainly none of the 31 songs performed. You can almost feel as if you are at a religious service as the audience stands and sways in congress to “Give Peace a Chance.”
Two rousing encores: “Let It Be” and “Hey Jude” brought to a conclusion a fine and reverential tribute to the Beatles. The program does not include a song list, but fans will have no problem recognizing the songs from the classic “Abbey Road” and “The White Album.” Visitors to the Neil Simon Theater will also notice that directly across the street at the August Wilson Theater the tenant is “Jersey Boys,” the story of another famed rock and roll group, the Four Seasons. Is there a message here? **
— Simon Saltzman
“Rain,” through Sunday, January 15, Neil Simon Theater, 250 West 52nd Street. The show will then move and reopen at the Brooks Atkinson Theater on Tuesday, February 8. $25 to $120. 877-250-2929.