Friday, September 09, 2005

The many peaces of Lennon

Saw the new John Lennon musical tonight at the Broadhurst. I hadn’t really been dying to see it, and I understand it’s been getting mixed reviews, but cheap tickets came up and I’m a Beatles fan, and I haven’t seen anything officially on Broadway in a while.

It was pretty enjoyable if you like his music and don’t go in expecting a whole lot. At times some of the nine actors (who all represent John Lennon at some point in the show) seem like they’re trying too hard and singing too loud. But at other times, especially during the ballads, some really hit their marks and perform well. The story is a loose recounting of Lennon’s life, with a heavy emphasis on his relationship with Yoko Ono Lennon – who happened to be in the audience at tonight’s show – but not as much about the Beatles as hardcore Beatles fans perhaps would like. But part of what the show seems to be saying is that Paul, Ringo and George were only part of his life – a big part, but not the only part. Those who agree with the by-now-cliché statement that Yoko broke up the band may not love that about the show, but I’m a fan without being a fanatic, if you understand the difference, so it didn’t bother me much.

A quick tangent: Two of my other favorite musical groups – Dar Williams and the Barenaked Ladies – have written their own versions of the John and Yoko story – from different viewpoints, too: Dar’s “I Won’t Be Your Yoko Ono” and BNL’s “Be My Yoko Ono.” I enjoy both perspectives.

The other thing that was a bit precious – if not entirely inaccurate – was the indulgence of the “Give Peace a Chance” message. Hmm. Nixon, Bush, Vietnam, Iraq. There are no parallels here, right? Even if I’m inclined to agree with the general message, it seemed a facile bit of overemphasis. Then again the show did get Yoko’s imprimatur and her bio does say she “remains passionate about crusading for the peaceful world” she and John dreamed of, so I guess she’s just doing her job.

Perhaps that’s what could have made this show better, if it hadn’t been so obvious in many ways. I’m reminded of last year’s Ears on a Beatle at the DR2. The two-person show focused specifically on the FBI’s investigations of Lennon, and featured an excellent performance by Dan Lauria of “Wonder Years” fame. That show had subtlety and wit and managed to really capture Lennon’s worldview at the time without hammering it home the way the musical does. But I guess, maybe, when you’re trying to capture the 40-year arc of a proto-rock-star’s life, you can’t afford to be coy and subtle the whole time. Still, not knowing much about Lennon’s life after the Beatles break-up, I was intrigued by some details of the story in Act II, and even liked the touch of the cop describing Lennon’s last moments and the way it resonates with the beginning.

So the show wasn’t that bad, and I have to go out and listen to more of Lennon’s own music now, but I still scrolled through to my Beatles greatest hits collection on the iPod going home on the 1.

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