By Bo Emerson
“Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles” at the Fox Theatre, is an enjoyable evening of music and nostalgia, a time trip and a celebration of the rock and roll canon.
No one is fooled that the four bewigged mop-tops on stage – Joey Curatolo as Paul McCartney, Joe Bithorn as George Harrison, Ralph Castelli as Ringo Starr and Steve Landes as John Lennon — are anything but clever actors and talented musicians.
But sometimes instinct kicks in.
“Yes! I screamed!” admitted Laura Millisor proudly, chatting about the first act during intermission. The Cumming law office administrator came to the Fox show to drink martinis, holler out tunes and have a ball with three of her pals.
Millisor, 55, just missed seeing the genuine article – she was in grammar school when the real Beatles stopped touring – but made up for it later, catching every Paul McCartney show she could, and even taking a three-day holiday to Liverpool. “Nobody stays in Liverpool three days except a real Beatles fan,” she said.
For any Beatles fan, a certain suspension of disbelief happens at the beginning of this show, when one decides not to quibble about the details (no, Paul isn’t right-handed) and enjoy the event as theater.
In that light, one can appreciate the extra pains that the producers took with sets, costuming, hair pieces and beards, plus the newly-made vintage guitars and the clever video footage that puts the cast from “Rain” into familiar scenes, such as the crosswalk at Abbey Road.
Each section of the show is set apart with a collage of TV clips and newsreels from the time period, serving as a kind of introduction and orientation.
Scenes from John Kennedy’s inaugural speech, the Mercury astronauts, hula hoop contests and Beatlemania at the airport in New York City ushered in the Ed Sullivan Show era. The curtains slid back, and the four lads were revealed, in their Savile suits and pony boots, launching into “I Want to Hold Your Hand.”
In that moment, “Rain” shows its true colors: the sound is just right.
All great players, the band members have also studied the art of distilling certain impossible-to-play Beatles songs (“I Am The Walrus” for example) into convincing versions that can be carried off by five guys. (Keyboard player Mark Lewis, playing in shadow, acted as the invisible fifth Beatle, supplying a synthesized brass brand for “Sgt. Pepper’s,” synth strings for “Eleanor Rigby,” organ on “Let it Be” and other critical contributions.)
Curatolo’s tenor comes close to matching McCartney’s range, and Landes brought the evening to an emotional peak when he sat down at the piano for “Imagine.”
Bithorn, Curatolo and Landes are all accomplished guitarists, but Bithorn went above and beyond, duplicating the scorching solo from “My Guitar Gently Weeps” (originally played by Eric Clapton) to a roaring ovation. Incredibly, by switching between pickups on his guitar, Bithorn was able to recreate the different guitar tones in the three-way guitar duel from the end of “Abbey Road,” playing all three roles by himself.
Castelli has the most fun with his role, and also does a top job channeling Ringo’s understated, bottom-heavy swing.
The Fox seemed full of audience members old enough to have seen the group the first time around, which meant we were a long way from the Cavern Club. Folks had to be cajoled out of their seats, but the charmers on stage were up to the task, and had the crowd singing along to “Give Peace a Chance” and “Hey Jude” by the end.
Landes has said that one of the functions of “Rain” is to give people who love the Beatles’ music a place to go. Naysayers may wonder if there’s a corner left in the world where they can go to get away from Beatles music. But despite the music’s overexposure, it is very rarely played live, except when Sir Paul comes to town. Hearing the songs faithfully performed here is a treat, hairpieces or none.
The show continues through Oct. 11.