CEDAR RAPIDS — Rain may be getting a little old outside our windows this week, but the Rain inside the Paramount Theatre on Tuesday night (4/16/13) will never grow old.
The tribute band that emerged on the Southern California club scene in the 1970s has gone through several incarnations and even landed on Broadway from October 2010 to July 2011. Three casts now tour the country, keeping Beatlemania alive for the ages.
A few under-20s dotted the full house crowd in Cedar Rapids, but the vast majority of fans were reliving their youth. One Boomer near me was moved to tears, saying she saw the Beatles in 1965, in one of the happiest years of her life. A gentleman a couple seats over was singing and dancing in his respectable grown-up suit. I suspect he was once part of the jeans and sandals set. One diehard aging hippie I knew in the crowd is still sporting a ponytail, but now it’s gray.
Whatever the ages, whatever the fashions, everyone was again a screaming teenager bowled over by the Mop Tops who looked and sounded like the real deal.
The concert flowed through the various ages and stages of the band’s evolution, augmented by vintage film footage and world news clips, from JFK through the moon landing and Vietnam. From the sublime to the ridiculous, the television commercials were hilarious, especially the sinking pearl touting the superiority of Prell shampoo.
I must admit I tanked on the preshow and intermission trivia quizes airing on the video screens flanking the stage. In my defense, I was just 5 when the Fab Four debuted on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” I do remember that broadcast — probably because it was really easy to sing along with “she loves you ya, ya, ya.”
We all got to sing those fun lyrics again, at the very top of the show. The four guys stepping into the iconic Beatle boots, black suits and bowl haircuts are every inch terrific and kept us singing, dancing and screaming for nearly 2 1/2 hours, right up through three encores.
Jim Irizarry, whom I interviewed for a preview article, was my spot-on favorite, channeling John Lennon. He came on especially strong in the first half finale, “A Day in the Life,” which ended with a crashing wall of sound and an atomic mushroom cloud video. Chilling, indeed.
Lennon’s star turn continued in the show’s final set, featuring the “Abbey Road” and “Let it Be” albums and beyond, starting with “Come Together” and ending with the first encore of “Give Peace a Chance.”
The musicians all took turns in the spotlight, some with blistering solos, others with quiet, gentle moments, like Mac Ruffing as the cute Beatle on the final encores of “Let it Be” and “Hey Jude.” I really think Paul McCartney would be pleased. In an impressive touch of authenticity, Ruffing played his bass left-handed throughout the show, just like McCartney.
Joe Bithorn from the original Broadway cast anchored George Harrison’s place out of the limelight until “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” taking his guitar from weeping to wailing. Douglas Cox as Ringo Starr added his terrific drumming to that standout cover.
From my front-row loge seat, I couldn’t see Chris Smallwood on auxiliary keyboards, but his presence was felt not only through instrumental sound effects, but in piano lines lovely to funky for “In My Life,” “Get Back” and “Revolution.”
This tribute show has it all — recreating not only the music, but also the looks, with dead-ringer costumes and stage effects. My favorite visual was the Sgt. Pepper set, sporting the bright, gaudy costumes, swirling lights and fog that captured my inner little-girl fancy then and now.
All night long, I couldn’t help but wonder what it must have been like to experience the Beatles for real. Since we can’t jump in a yellow submarine and put it in reverse, thank goodness we have time travelers like Rain to keep the sights and sounds alive.