“Backbeat, The Birth of the Beatles”
At The Theatre with Audrey Linden
Remember Beatlemania? If you were around in the 60’s, I am sure you music aficionados would remember the phenomenon that was the Beatles and the sensation they caused. That was when there were four of them: John Lennon (Andrew Knott), Paul Mc Cartney (Daniel Healy), George Harrison (Daniel Westwick), and RIngo Starr (Adam Sopp). Most of us did not know of their climb to fame. To us it seemed they were an overnight sensation, and we could not get enough of them. Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys adapted the Universal film into this multi-media play, which traces the years of struggle as a group of five young men from Liverpool were performing in dives in Hamburg. Pete Best (Oliver Bennett) and Stuart Sutcliffe (Nick Blood) were performers before Ringo joined the group. Their sound and image had not yet gelled. This production, which marks the U. S. premiere of “Backbeat” was alive, electrifying, and dynamically acted. I was pulled in immediately into a time passed, and I did not want it to end.
Andrew D. Edwards’ set with its stark factory feel was the perfect backdrop for the performers. There was a metal walkway as a second story with a staircase that led down to the stage. A loveseat, lamp, tables and chairs were swiftly brought in and out as scenes changed. But, it was the projections by Timothy Bird, Nina Dunn, and Knifedge that added a strong realistic dimension and an immediate aliveness. The startling images of art, presumably by Stuart Sutcliffe, grainy black and white photos of the Beatles and of the performers added so much as the story unfolded.
David Leveaux direction was stellar. While they did not look exactly like the Beatles as we came to know them, the ensemble cast acted their characters to perfection. Never once, did they break character or lose their Liverpool accents. Leanne Best brought a stark reality to her character of Astrid. Her German accent was flawless. Edward Clarke’s (Bruno Koschmider) German accent wasn’t quite believable in both his English and German speaking which bothered me. I wondered what happened to the dialect coach.
The support ensemble of dancers, and atmosphere people was terrific. They created the mood so well. They were like living sculptures or works of art reminiscent of an Edvard Munch painting. One gal had a cigarette poised in her hand as she walked around and struck poses and postures. The ensemble cast created “performance art,” which was mesmerizing.
In Hamburg, the five Beatles had to do six hour sets in the seedy basement of a smoke filled club that looked like a whore house. “Are we to play until our fingers bleed?” As the five Beatles camped out in one room, young George lost his virginity. In Hamburg, these teenagers and early twenty-something fellows got into sex and drugs and turned to Preluden to stay awake. This was the pre “Brian Epstein” days when the group couldn’t interest anyone in recording them.
The group was deported back to England because George was underage. In time, they got Brian Epstein as their manager, lost Stuart, ousted Pete for RIngo, and went back to Hamburg and started to claim their place in the world of music.
Lennon, who also was an artist, had an impassioned attachment with fellow art student, Stuart Sutcliffe, whom he taught to play limited guitar chords. Sutcliffe gave up his first love of painting to follow John and became a “Beatle”. The “why” of the relationship was not explored, but the intensity on both parts was clear. There was resentment on Lennon's part when Stuart fell head over heels in love with Astrid, the photographer who gave the Beatles their look with the bowl haircuts, white shirts, ties, and Nehru jackets. This was the look we came to associate with the four Beatles. In this fine production some familiar songs written by others but with the Beatle's signature were “My Bonnie” Johnny B Good”, “You Really Got A Hold On Me”, and their own songs “As I Write This Letter”, and “Love Me Do”.
Nick Blood was excellent as the brooding artist, Stuart. His transitions from shy, posed guitar player to love struck fellow, to the brooding drunk and disenchanted man were wonderful. Andrew Knott’s Lennon was brash, a bit over-the-top, but non-the-less superbly acted. The scene in which he finally loses it as his tough guy façade crumbles was so well done. I was weeping with him. Daniel Westwick as George, Daniel Healy as Paul, and Oliver Bennett as Pete were flawlessly acted as was Dominic Rouse' jilted Klaus.
When the play ended after the performers had taken their bows to the standing ovation and thunderous applause, the actor/musicians gave us a set with some of the Beatles’ hits as “I Want to Hold Your Hand”, “Love Me Do”, “She Loves Me”, and “Twist and Shout”. Who could ever forget the Beatles? Their music is as powerful now as it was in the 60’s and 70’s, and this was a delightful romp into the past.
There has been no other musical group yet to eclipse the popularity and fame of our Beatles. I say “our” because while they came from England, but the Beatles belonged to the world. Their music transitioned and evolved from rock into their singularly unique style. We will always remember “Love Me Do”, Please Please Me”, “From Me to You”, “She Loves You”, their movie, “A Hard Day’s Night”, the whimsical animated, “Yellow Submarine”, “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” etc., The Beatles were not afraid to keep changing their image and to evolve musically as they ventured into new directions in life.
You will come to understand their rise to fame, which was not overnight, and to love the Beatles all over again. I am waiting for part two which will take us from their early years, and performances on the Ed Sullivan Show to the breakup of the group. If you were a Beatles’ fan, you will not want to miss “Backbeat.” Our audience had all ages enjoying the show. Such was the influence of the Beatles.
“Backbeat, The Birth of the Beatles” runs through March 1st at the Ahmanson Theatre at 135N. Grand Ave. Los Angles. Parking is available under the building. For ticket prices and show times, call 213-972-4400 or online at www.centertheatregroup.org
Audrey Linden is a writer, actress and singer. She can be seen in a long-running “Associated Tax Resolution” commercial, two “Little Caesars” spots, a “Teva International Pharmaceutical” short, Gene Simmons’ “Family Jewels,” “America’s Court with Judge Ross,” VHS “Tough Love 2,”etc.
Audrey teaches ON CAMERA COMMERCIAL WORKSHOPS through the City of Beverly Hills, Community Services. To register, call 310-285-6850-course # 18014. Her classes are held at 241 Moreno Dr. B.H. 90212. The next class starts January 10th For more information, contact Audrey at email@example.com The class in for 8 weeks @ $118 from 6:45-9:15 PM ($5 materials fee payable to instructor first night). The next series of classes will be in March.