Thursday, April 21, 2005

'Lennon'- out of town opening review.

"Lennon" in San Francisco
Reviewed by Jim Harrington, liveDaily Contributor


April 20, 2005 02:04 PM - Transporting the work of John Lennon to the world of Andrew Lloyd Webber is, at best, a dicey proposition. Yet, the producers of "Lennon" have managed that feat in a mostly convincing fashion.

The new musical based on the life and songs of the all-time great rock icon had its world premiere Tuesday (4/19) at the Orpheum Theatre in San Francisco. A star-studded crowd--which notably included Lennon's widow, Yoko Ono--turned out to get an early peek at the production, which will also stop in Boston before finally settling into what is expected to be a long run on Broadway.


Writer-director Don Scardino made many smart choices with this production. The first was not to try to cast one person to fill Lennon's legendary shoes. Instead, Scardino--whose credits include the Broadway and National Tour for "A Few Good Men"--chose to dramatize the changes in the character's life by having a whole company take turns portraying the star. A variety of actors--male and female, white and black, old and young--manage to underscore the "brotherhood of man" imagery found in "Imagine" and much of Lennon's other post-Beatles work.



Image hosted by Photobucket.com

I see John & Yoko. But where's May Pang?
Not... written out!


Another good move was to let Lennon do the talking. Ninety percent of the dialogue in the musical is taken from actual interviews that he and Ono gave over the years. Lennon was nearly as good a talker as he was a songwriter--funny, insightful, infuriating, heartbreaking and, above all, clever--and that always came across during interviews. The result of mining through hundreds of interviews to create the script is that the dialogue is often as intriguing as the music. That doesn't happen often in musical theater.

Scardino, however, made some certainly questionable decisions in his treatment of the Beatles. The director went out of his way to make this the John Lennon story and not the Beatles story. But, in doing so, he glosses over the singer's involvement in the most important rock band of all time in such an extreme way that the crowd really doesn't have a vested interest in this period of Lennon's life. The result is that, when the band breaks up, as symbolized with the tune "God," the intended emotional impact falls flat.

The director does a much better job with Lennon's relationship to Ono, which is to be expected given Ono's involvement with the project. The play follows the couple through song, moving from the early stages ("Real Love") and the peaceful protests against war ("The Ballad of John and Yoko") to troubled times ("I'm Losing You/I'm Moving On") and rebirth ("(Just Like) Starting Over").


It's important for Beatles fans to note that the play focuses strongly on Lennon's solo material. There are a few early Beatles songs included, but none from the Lennon-McCartney songbook. Lennon fanatics, however, will be pleased to know that the production does offer two otherwise unpublished, never-recorded Lennon tracks that Ono provided.

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