Much like every creationist story that we can't get enough of, "BACKBEAT: The Birth of The Beatles" relays the story of the Fab Four when they were five, and when they were playing marathon rock-and-roll stints in the dirty clubs of Hamburg, Germany.
BACKBEAT brings the story of Stuart Sutcliffe to the forefront, the attractive, charasmatic, talented friend of John's who originally played bass in the group (although apparently not very well). Through the story of Stu, we learn how, in his short stint with the band, he influenced the way they dressed, how they did their hair, the number of screaming fans who would watch them (Ladies Loved Cool Stu), even in his absence, he influenced the band's overall success.
John Lennon adored Stu almost to a fault; he insisted he play in The Quarrymen (the band that The Beatles emerged from), even when Stu wasn't as good of a guitar player as the others, and was openly jealous when Stu wanted to leave the band and focus on his promising art career, and his new relationship with photographer Astrid Kirchherr.
It was only when Stu left the band for good that the Lennon/McCartney partnership blossomed and the band gelled in a way it couldn't with Stu around.
Unfortunately Stu wasn't to be around for long at all - suffering from increasingly painful headaches, he died suddenly from a brain aneurysm, leaving, Astrid, now his fiancee, shattered and John Lennon brokenhearted. He was 21.
If Stu Sutcliffe was anything like how Nick Blood portrays him, then Sutcliffe was as charasmatic as legend says. The eye is involuntarily drawn to him on stage and he manages to make the melodramatic moments believeable. Yes he's very attractive, but he's such a natural actor and so interesting to watch, it's difficult to imagine the real Stuart Sutcliffe much different.
The rest of the Fab Four were almost as strong, with Daniel Healy's (Paul McCartney) sounding eerily similar to an early Sir Paul's, and Dan Westwick (George Harrison) emodiying the innocence and subtle-talent that I understand a young Harrison to have had. Andrew Knott (John Lennon) seemed to have the acting chops to fill the daunting role, but the characterization of Lennon (perhaps a directorial choice?) was so two-dimensional that I quickly grew tired of the schtick.
Although, BACKBEAT toutes itself as not a "jukebox" musical that forces songs into the plot line, that's exactly what it is. There are moments when the songs are more spontaneous and fit nicely into the scene, but as the story progresses, more often than not, we watched a band play upbeat rock-and-roll hits because we know, and they know, that that's what the audience wants to see.
Why else would there be a curtain call concert of four Beatles songs to end the show?
The story of Stu Sutcliffe, Astrid Kirchherr and The Beatles is fascinating in itself and an exciting part of rock-and-roll history, there are two extremely talented actors playing these roles on stage, not to mention the rest of the gifted cast; I wish the show relied more on the strength of these elements to tell the story and had more faith in the audience's intelligence to leave out the additional renditions of "Twist and Shout", and the historical inaccuracies, altogether.
But, what I did learn? Stu Sutcliffe really rocked.
For tix, click here or call TicketKing: 416-872-1212.
Rush tickets available for $29! 2 tix/person, available 2 hours before the show and subject to availability.
After watching Hermia and Helena put up their dukes and battle for their respective rights to Demetrius and Lysander , my friend turned to me and whispered excitedly, "This is just like 'Jersey Shore'!"
As she turned back and continued to laugh at the on-stage action, I thought, "Holy sh*t, she's right."
Ol' Shake was really a man for all the ages.
But, 'Jersey Shore' doesn't have fairies or magic or stolen babies (yet), so I think we can agree he's still a cut above MTV.
I don't watch MTV, but I DO see a lot of theatre, and if I am totally honest, the annual production of Shakespeare in High Park is something I do for the overall experience of the evening - the picnic, the outdoor theatre, the thrill of watching kids see a play, and potentially their first Shakespeare play, the fun of snacking while I watch a show, and then, almost begrudgingly, I watch the play.
I confess that it's a rare occassion when I enjoy the play as much as everything else.
So I thoroughly enjoy it when the rarity occurs.
This year's production of A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM, one of the Bard's more popular plays, is performed (albeit abridged) with hilarious vigor and endless energy.
It starts off slow, with some over-the-top, not-so-funny bits where the actors are almost all simultaneously mugging for the audience, but then Helena (a hysterical Sarah Sherman) appears and with her opening monologue, things are set right for the rest of the show. By the time Nick Bottom's troupe of try-hard actors is finishing up their play within the play, I was laughing so hard I had to wipe away tears.
(Admittedly, at the end of the play, I tuned out of the performance and tuned in to the audience, and remember distinctly having the thought "So this is what is sounds like when people "roar" with laughter". So, it's not just me who was slapping their knee and guffawing with joy.)
The cast is overall really fabulous, a compliment that extends to Rose Napoli, the actor who plays Hermia and had been a last-minutes replacement for the original actor who had to bow out due to injury. Yes, Napoli had played the part before but to gel with the cast as well as she seemingly has, is a testament to her skill as well as to the other actors.
The show's got some really odd bits too - the plot with Titania, Oberon and the young boy they're fighting over, isn't clear, and in the end, after alls well that ends well, the cast erupts into a song that made me feel embarrassed that their top-notch performances were being marred by an incoherent ballad that seemed forced and awkward.
But, despite the oddities, and in true "Jersey Shore" style, I was left at the end wanting more. In not=so typical "Jersey Shore" style, I left feeling happy that I watched the show and a bit mor optimistic about the world.
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM is playing now until September 2 at High Park.
All tickets are Pay-What-You-Can. Showtime is 8pm, but pack a picnic, get a couple of blankets, arrive at 6pm, get a good seat, mange and enjoy. It's one of the best experiences of a Toronto summer.
For more info: www.canadianstage.com