Beatles’ Tribute goes from Los Angeles bar scene to Broadway

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Beatles’ Tribute goes from Los Angeles bar scene to Broadway

Posted on: February 7th, 2014 by tommyj

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A half century after the Beatles stormed American shores, "Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles" washes over the Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11.

The production chronicles the Fab Four’s evolution, with a score that includes the hits "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "Hard Day’s Night," "Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band," "Let It Be," "Come Together" and "Hey Jude."

Show officials said "Rain" also includes songs the Beatles recorded in the studio but didn’t play live.

The tribute show is geared toward delivering not only the music of the Beatles, but the mannerisms of its stars, the nuances of their performances and a bit of the fashion fads that accompanied their journey.

The multimedia show includes video footage and costumes that transports audiences first to a time of mop-tops and suits of early shows to the mustaches and psychedelic outfits of later performances.

As the managerial and creative mind that transformed "Rain" from a 1970s southern California bar band doing Beatles covers into a touring phenomenon itself, founder, manager and original keyboardist Mark Lewis said he was among the scores of people drawn to the British group during its celebrated Feb. 9, 1964, performance on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

"The Beatles were in a class by themselves," Lewis said of the band that’s had such an impact on his own music career. "They changed the world. I don’t really know if I chose the Beatles, or just followed my passion."

Initially, though, Rain was a band with no intentions of doing other artists’ repertoire.

"Our goal was to write and record our own music, and to hopefully become a hit band doing our own songs," Lewis said. "We happened to be huge Beatle fans, and, because we needed to work, and we didn’t want to play top 40 hits, we decided to put together a few sets of music that we really enjoyed playing. Of course this included a lot of Beatles songs.

"Rather than just including Beatle songs in the set we decided to separate it, and do some exclusively Beatles sets," he said. "Eventually, we separated it into an early Beatles set, Sgt. Pepper and late Beatles segments. Mind you, at this time, there was no such thing as a tribute band, nor had there been any other show such as ‘Beatlemania’ for us to copy."

The group figured they’d approach a local club owner in Los Angeles and see if they could present a Beatles night on one of the slower nights of the week, typically Mondays and Tuesdays.

"We invited our friends, because we wanted be assured an audience to play for," he said. "It turned out that the club was packed, the club owner was happy, and asked us to return, and eventually we met agents that booked us as Rain (the group previously had gone by the name Reign) doing the tribute to the Beatles."

Still piecing together a group that looked and sounded like masters of music history isn’t an easy feat.

"Everything about it is hard," Lewis said. "First and foremost, you have to find great musicians. They have to play great, and have the ability (in the case of John Lennon and Paul McCartney) to play multiple instruments, e.g. bass, guitar, piano, and to play these instruments at a very high level of perfection. They have to have great ears to figure out the parts correctly; they have to be great singers that can sound like the voices of the Beatles rather than just sounding good, or unique. This in itself is a very specialized talent.

"They have to have a great ability to harmonize, and blend well with other singers; they have to look somewhat like the characters they portray," he said. "They have to have the confidence to front a band, and with an English accent. You can go on and on. It’s an extremely difficult job for a musician, and to find people that can do this at the level of the guys in ‘Rain’ was extremely demanding. Keep in mind this is the Beatles; if you don’t do it to perfection people will not only walk out on you, they will be angry at you, you will be laughed at.

"Remember, you don’t just want a great bass player, and you don’t just want a great bass player that can sing — you want a great bass player that can sing and sound like Paul McCartney, and play piano, and have his persona. Then you have to do it for the other three Beatles. This was not easy."

It was also hard initially to sell the idea of a performance that highlighted music from the 1970s, a time when another music form, Disco, was both captivating and repelling crowds.

"I had a lot of doubt as to where this was going until we started to pack major Broadway type theaters about eight years ago," he said. "That was when we started to reap the reward of all of our hard work, and get some recognition for what we had created.

"When Rain started in the mid-’70s, I was just a musician that was playing music that I loved playing," he said. "It was fun. I really didn’t know where it was going. If you’re doing something that you love doing, and you’re fortunate enough to be able to make a living at it, and you happen to be good at it, what would be the reason to stop.

"Although I’ve been doing this for decades it seems as if just yesterday I was playing in bars in LA, then the next thing I know we’re starring on Broadway," Lewis said. "Pretty amazing."

Rain also cut the soundtrack to the 1979 made-for-TV movie "Birth of the Beatles," after being approached by Dick Clark.

The cast of the current touring production includes Ian B Garcia, Ralph Castelli, Jimmy Irizarry, Joe Bithorn and Chris Smallwood.

"(The show) usually starts like a Broadway show, and ends like a rock concert with people standing, singing and swaying with the music," Lewis said.

Tickets to the Concord show range from $48 to $68. Call 225-1111 or log onto www.ccanh.com for more details.

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