Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway -- Theater Review

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Sure, they're just a cover band, but it's as close to seeing the Beatles as you're ever going to come.

Every generation deserves its version of Beatlemania.

First came the original band, then a decade later the Broadway re-creation "Beatlemania" and now aging baby boomers can relive their nostalgic memories with "Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles on Broadway."

Although purists might sneer at this concert/theatrical experience, there's no denying that, as cover bands go, this is one of the best.

Originally created as an offshoot to "Beatlemania," which had a hit Broadway run during the late 1970s, Rain has gone on to become a perpetually popular touring act and the stars of an oft-broadcast PBS special. Their current Broadway debut essentially brings things full circle.

Consisting at most performances of Joey Curatolo as Paul McCartney, Steve Landes as John Lennon, Joe Bithorn as George Harrison, Ralph Castelli as Ringo Starr and Mark Beyer filling in with keyboards -- the Billy Preston role, if you will -- Rain clearly has the musical chops to fulfill their goal of replicating their inspiration's music. It's an even more admirable achievement when you consider that most of this material never was performed live by the Beatles.

Not surprisingly, there are plenty of multimedia theatrical touches embellishing the presentation. Video screens provide archival footage of the period, ranging from the somber (the JFK assassination, the Civil Rights movement) to the silly (cheesy TV commercials, including an animated "Flintstones" cigarette spot). As things progress to the flower-power era, there are plenty of psychedelic images to induce the proper drug-saturated mood.

But the chief question, of course, is how well do these guys approximate the music that is burned into our brains? The answer is, pretty expertly. Covering more than 30 classic numbers encompassing the band's catalog, they replicate the music with uncanny accuracy, providing vocal harmonies and instrumentation impressive by any standards. Although some numbers are more ragged than others, such moments as Bithorn's guitar solo during "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and a charming acoustic miniset provide genuine pleasures.

Curatolo's Paul is the genial frontman, stoking the multigenerational audience's enthusiasm and frequently paying generous tribute to the band that brought us here.

The performers convincingly visually transform themselves into the Beatles' various incarnations, from their original mop top, dark-suited look to the wildly costumed "Sgt. Pepper" era to the casual hipness of the later years. The backdrops are similarly period appropriate, approximating such venues as Ed Sullivan's studio, Shea Stadium, Abbey Road and the "Let It Be" rooftop. Much attention is paid to detail, evidenced by clever touches like Landes' John chewing gum during his rendition of "Give Peace a Chance."

Sure, it's all a bit cheesy, and the ticket prices of as much as $120 are a hell of a lot to pay for what essentially is a glorified cover band. But then again, what price is too high to relive these sorts of memories?

Venue: Neil Simon Theatre, New York (Through Jan. 2)
Presented by: Annerin Prods., Magic Arts & Entertainment/Tix Prods., Nederlander Presentations Inc. and Rain
Cast: Steve Landes, Joey Curatolo, Joe Bithorn, Ralph Castelli, Mark Beyer
Scenic designer: Scott Christensen, Todd Skinner
Video designer: Darren McCaulley, Mathieu St-Arnaud
Lighting designer: Stephan Gotschel
Sound designer: Abe Jacob