If you are a Beatles fan, Backbeat is one play you shouldn’t miss.
Wedged between two septuagenarians, I couldn’t contain my excitement as I waited for the curtains to go up. People streamed in and filled up the Royal Alexandra Theater within five minutes of opening the door. There was still good thirty minutes till the show began. The Beatles were the talk of the auditorium- animated elderly men describing with lively details what living through the Beatlemania was like and young children wondering what was all the fuss about (I overheard one kid arguing with his father that ‘Let it be’ was Justin Bieber’s song. And no, the father did not strangle him to death. Love is blind, you know).
The play was brilliant. It follows the early days of the Beatles from their gig at a bar in Hamburg’s Red Light district till the release of their debut album ‘Please Please Me’. More than the birth of the Beatles, the play was about the friendship between Lennon and Stu, the fifth beatle and a gifted artist, and the beautiful romance between Stu and Astrid.
Beatles were destined for unprecedented greatness from the beginning. There was something magical in the music they produced that drew music lovers in droves. But the band did not have have their best line up when they played in Hamburg. Two weak links apparently stood in the way of greatness – bass guitarist Stu Sutcliffe and drummer Pete Best.
Voorman, a German artist, shows up at the bar and is blown away by the music he hears. He strikes up a conversation with the band and makes their acquaintance. Unaware that he’d be the first one to be hit by the hurricane that’s shaping up, he talks his girl friend into coming to the tacky bar to listen to the band. Floored by their music, Astrid begins frequenting the cheap bar and a romance with Stu blossoms. She persuades Stu to ditch the band to pursue his dreams in arts. Stu stays behind in Hamburg to be with his girlfriend when the band goes back home.
Back in Liverpool, The Beatles sans Stu play at Cavern Club, two streets away from a record store owned by Brian Epstein. Brian hears of the band from a boy who shows up at the store asking for My Bonny by the Beatles (Beatles did musical backing in that album by Tony Sherdian). He drops in at the club and is — no surprises here — floored. Convinced that the boys will be bigger than Elvis, he becomes the band’s manager and works to get them a recording contract. George Martin offers the contract but on one condition: Pete Best must be kicked out. Richard Starkey aka Ringo Starr replaces Pete and thus was born the most successful and influential band of all time.
The play was also about music. The actors are musician play some early Beatles numbers, rocking, exhilarating, powerful and fun. They played a few songs that the Beatles had in their repertoire before they started making their own songs. ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy, ‘A Taste of Honey’, ‘You Really Got A Hold on Me’ were delightfully good while the rendition of ‘Rock and Roll music’ had many dancing in the aisle. When they ended the show by singing ‘Twist and Shout’, the last song recorded for ‘Please Please Me’ album, there was not one soul in the auditorium who could keep his posterior on the seat.
A beatlemaniac myself, I had many “goosebumps” moments. During the scene when Astrid takes photos of the Beatles, the original photos by Astrid were projected on the screen behind the stage. I had a lump in my throat when some rare photos of young John Lennon came up. The romance between Stu and Astrid was so well portrayed that when Stu drops dead in her arms, one couldn’t help but weep for Astrid. But Paul is portrayed as a whiner, jealous of John being very close to Stu. I’ve have liked to see a much stronger Paul, as I know him. John helping Paul to complete ‘Love Me Do’ gives a peep into one of the greatest songwriting partnerships (my favorite moment in the show).
The cast graciously played a few popular Beatles numbers after the show (As great as the show was, it had none of the popular Beatles songs. Understandably so, because the play was about their early days). When ‘When I Saw Her Standing There’ was sung, I spotted a few elderly men and women standing on their seats, singling along, shouting, flailing, dancing and reliving Beatlemania. Only the Beatles!