Friday, April 23, 2004

Jonathan Black plays the bespectacled John Lennon of The Beatles.

Get ready to
rock ‘n’ roll

Interviewing the Beatles in 1964 was an opportunity Stewart Macpherson hadn't anticipated when he was a radio announcer with the New Zealand Broadcasting System.

'Rock Legends'

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall

When: 8 p.m. today and tomorrow, and 2 and 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $35 to $65

Call: 591-2211

"It was an outdoor interview thing because of the huge interest. We were on a balcony and the street probably had 100,000 people jammed all in to see this phenomenon. As far as you could see, there was this sea of people and we were broadcasting live, but I doubt that anybody heard very much because there were 100,000 people screaming," Macpherson recalled when we called him recently in New Zealand to talk about his current project, "Rock Legends," a show described as "the ultimate tribute to the Beatles, ABBA and Queen."

"Rock Legends" opens tonight at the Blaisdell Concert Hall for four performances through this Sunday. Forty members of the Honolulu Symphony will back the stars of the show, playing arrangements and orchestrations by Maestro Ian Sutherland of the BBC and conducted by Barry Potts.

The Beatles will be portrayed by Jonathan Black (John Lennon), Russ Spencer (Paul McCartney), Mark Lawson (George Harrison) and Paul Sumner (Ringo Starr); Duncan Royce as Freddie Mercury; and, as ABBA, Wilson Young (Benny Andersson), Mark Pollard (Bjorn Ulvaeus), Danielle Murphy (Anni-Frid Lyngstad) and Diane O'Sullivan (Agnetha Faltskog).

Macpherson says that it is the quality of the music that makes the show an event. Everything is live, he says, and it's a full-on show -- not a symphonic concert with guest singers.

"Obviously, you're never going to have the actual Beatles any more, but the music that they created ... that became universal is a much broader spectrum than a lot of other music of other eras. It was an amalgam of raw energy, rock and roll (and) the political times that came together in ways that's not really been replicated since because of the confluence of those factors."

Macpherson sees ABBA and Queen as representing similar traditions of catchy melodies and memorable lyrics.

"ABBA had that glam thing that was still very, very melodic. A lot of it was pretty light but still toe-tapping -- it put a smile on your face. And then Queen, in a totally different way, from a U.K. perspective, were the last of the big bands who were not just stadium rockers but actually played very intricate melody lines and counterpoints and harmonies and so forth. They rocked, but the music was very melodic. I think it's those elements (these three groups have in common)."

Macpherson had particular praise for Royce's portrayal of the late Queen frontman. "Duncan ... is amazing. For the last 15 years, he's been doing Freddie Mercury-type shows and, because of his background, he's got the movements and everything down to the nth degree."

"What I'm observing with the audiences here in New Zealand ... is that you've got an interesting combination of people who are 40-plus, and their kids as well, because they all know the music. It keeps popping up on the radio and television so the kids are as much exposed to that whole era of music as to whatever is contemporary right now."

The music of ABBA will be featured in "Rock Legends."

WHILE MACPHERSON grew up with the music, he saw much of it from the inside. He made the transition from radio announcer to promoter after his career took him to Australia, where he worked in Top 40 radio and in television. He then moved to England, where he worked for the BBC and recorded almost major British band of the day.

"That was a time when a lot of live music was being recorded (for broadcast) by the BBC because they had a very strict limitation on how many records per se could be played, and so the way to get around that was to have the groups come in and pre-record as a BBC recording. So we did lots and lots of recordings -- not just the Beatles, but the Stones, the Who, and all of the British bands at the time.

Promoters come and go in Hawaii, but Macpherson has one of the best and most eclectic records here of any non-resident promoter. He presented a double bill of Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble and the Fabulous Thunderbirds in Blaisdell Arena back when few island residents were aware of either act, and also presented Midnight Oil at their peak.

Macpherson is bringing "Rock Legends" to Honolulu after presenting it in New Zealand, South Africa and the U.K.

In discussing his long career as a promoter, he said that "something works in one part of the world and it doesn't somewhere else. Apart from the Beatles, who are pretty much universal everywhere, there are other acts that just don't sell records in some places, but sell hugely in others -- and similarly with musicals and plays. It's very diverse, but that's part of the challenge."

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