With only Sir Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr left, fans no longer hope for a reunion. What an amazing ride they had, but before they were the Fab Four, they were a different set of lads: John Lennon, George Harrison, Pete Best and Stuart Sutcliffe. Although billed as "Backbeat: The Birth of the Beatles" this stage play with music mainly focuses on the love story--the bromance between Lennon and Sutcliffe and the standard hetero-romance between Sutcliffe and German photographer Astrid Kirchherr. The play makes its U.S. premiere at the Ahmanson and runs until March 1.
Sutcliffe (Nick Blood) is sometimes called the fifth Beatle ,and unlike Pete Best (Oliver Bennett) who was summarily dumped by the group (portrayed at the end of this play), his departure was voluntary. Sutcliffe met Lennon (Andrew Knott) at art school and they were roommates. While Lennon was a talented musician, he was not a first-rate artist. On the other hand, Sutcliffe was a gifted painter, but only an adequate bass player.
Lennon looked up to Sutcliffe and wanted to take his best friend along on a wild ride that would become the Beatles. To an extent, despite or because of the horrific conditions of their first Hamburg trip, the group became more cohesive. Yet the pull of art and Lennon's affection for Sutcliffe took the focal point away from the creative center of Lennon and McCartney. Kirschherr (Leanne Best0 wasn't exactly Yoko Ono, but she forces Sutcliffe to realize what's important to him--art and love.
"Backbeat" is based on the Universal Pictures Films of the same name, written by Iain Softley, Michael Thomas and Stephen Ward. Softley and Stephen Jeffreys adapted the story for stage and the play is both concert and tribute band to the Beatles. Director David Leveaux with musical supervisor Paul Stacey begins and keeps the pace with a driving beat.
Don't expect anything deep here. These are lads having fun, before the boys took on a more professional demeanor in dress and on-stage patter. There is enough to suggest what came later. Not just the success, but the sometimes contentious creative relationship between McCartney and Lennon as well as Lennon's attraction to established artist Yoko Ono and McCartney's insistence that Linda, negligible musician and singer that she was, be on stage with him.
"Backbeat" is meant to stimulate your intellect--not even in terms of the relationship between art, music and artists, but "Backbeat" want to motivate you out of your seat. This is theater meant to get your feet tapping to the beat and your hands clapping to the music. The show, a Kark Sydow production in association with the Glasgow Citizens Theatre, has a fun soundtrack and at the end, you'll have the opportunity to do a little dancing. You might want to storm the stage, but it's not that kind of show. "Backbeat" is making its U.S. premiere at the Ahmanson and continues until March 1. If you enjoy the music of the early Beatles and that general time era, definitely take time to feel the "Backbeat" of the Beatles.