During “Hey Jude,” the inevitable encore of “Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles” — the lifeless gang of Fab Four impostors that opened another weeklong engagement Tuesday night at the Ford Center for the Performing Arts/Oriental Theatre — Fake Paul filed through the requisite crowd-directing gimmicks during the song’s endless nah-nah-nahs. “Right side!” “Left side!” “Only the men!” “Now the women!” If you hadn’t nah-nah-nodded off by then, you’re made of strong, hardy Midwestern stock.
Then he called out for “everyone under the age of 18!” As you might imagine at this garish baby boomer theme-park ride, it suddenly got very quiet. But there were a few brave voices — the high pitched sound of the young, or the kidnapped — who squeaked into the fray.
It’s to those young folks I’d like to address this review.
First, kids, let me say what your parents probably won’t: I’m so, so sorry you had to see this show. When I think about Best Coast playing an all-ages show uptown at Lincoln Hall on the same night, and you were stuck aboard your parents’ long, weepy nostalgia trip — my heart aches. You would’ve even had more fun with the “Sound Opinions” guys who were discussing Elvis at a showing of “Jailhouse Rock” at the Music Box. At least you would’ve learned something.
Second, let me assure you: Rock ‘n’ roll is not always, or even in most cases, this soul-crushingly boring. The real Beatles — well, watch some YouTube. They had more energy in press conferences than this cast had in performance. These were second- or third-string cast members, mind you, a mostly different bunch from last year’s tour (this Fake Paul actually plays left-handed). But this tribute thing — a “jukebox musical” that doesn’t even strain itself to cobble together a narrative — is not a rock concert. It’s a pantomime, a bunch of wanna-bes playing dress-up. At the risk of sounding like one of the football meatheads on “Glee”: It’s a show choir with guitars. A creepy, ghoulish old show choir.
That the Fake Lads play their instruments is a meager testament to their drab, staid presentation of 31 Beatles hits (though, oddly, not the song that gave this show its title), punctuated only by wig changes, distracting vintage commercials, and those constant pleas for the audience to stand, clap, applaud. Kids, take note: Any act that has to ask for applause does not deserve said applause.
Hopefully, you at least paid attention to Fake George (Tom Teeley). That guy can play a freakin’ guitar. Did you perk up when he soloed during “I’ve Just Seen a Face” (the hoedown thing)? Even Fake Paul’s legs went all jittery over that. And when Fake George ripped it up during “Revolution”? Pay attention to the feeling that gave you, in places you might not feel comfortable yet talking about with Ma and Pa. Let that glimmer be your guide in your future musical explorations — all of which should replicate and enhance that feeling, and all of which should be conducted outside the theater district.
They mean well, your folks. The Beatles were a transformative experience both psychologically and sociologically, never mind musically, and both of those fields have looked into the strange urges that make old folks easy prey to nostalgia scams like this. It’s OK to like the same music your parents or grandparents do — baby boomers had the enviable luck of being born in time to buy some great stuff, and the real Beatles were unassailably cool. But learn to recognize the difference between the actual appeal of the art and the heady narcotic of reminiscence.
Be safe, study hard, and next time fake a fever.