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Saturday, February 24, 2001

Show of Beatles
close enough for
rock ’n’ roll

By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin

"You passed the audition," someone yelled when the show was almost over. The comment, obviously inspired by John Lennon's well-known closing words on "Get Back," seemed to sum things up for most of the audience last night as "Get Back!" opened for four performances this weekend in the Hawaii Theatre.

The show is a celebration of the music of the Beatles by four guys who look more or less like the Beatles did in the '60s, sound more or less like the Beatles might have sounded playing a show without every woman in the place screaming her head off, and who play a hodgepodge of Beatles songs culled apparently at random from the 13 Beatles albums and various singles released by EMI Parlophone between 1962 and 1970.

Act 1 is devoted entirely to the Beatles' middle period (1964-1966), when they were no longer a club band but still for the most part playing classic rock 'n' roll music. Act 1 is also the part of the show that is easiest to accept as a celebrity impersonation performance since it represents the time when the Beatles were still a touring concert band playing and recording with drums, bass and guitars. This is how the Beatles could have sounded if they had been booked to play the Hawaii Theatre or the Civic Auditorium in 1963 or early 1964.

Act 2 provides a quick overview of the "Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band" era and then a look at what came after. Most of it is music that the Beatles never performed in a "live" concert format. Assuming the Beatles had worked up concert arrangements, there would have been many musicians backing them onstage. "Get Back!" understandably uses tracks to fill in the horn sections and other key bits, although John (Peter McGann), Paul (Jack Petrilla) and George (Peter Santora) trade instruments on several numbers so that John or Paul can play keyboards.

Ringo (Phil Rowland) maintains a solid beat throughout. "Act Naturally" is his big vocal number.

The presentation is more impersonation than impression. The four remain in character throughout the show rather than speaking as themselves between songs as does Hawaii's superlative Elvis impressionist, Jonathan Von Brana. The physical re-creation of John, Paul, George and Ringo is consistently the strongest element, although the vocals and musicianship is generally close enough. Fill the theater with screaming girls and Act 1 would have a major sonic component that "Get Back!" must work without.

Odd scripting sometimes mars the illusion. McGann's comment in Act 1 that "I Call Your Name" would be recorded by the Mamas & the Papas "before the fatal ham sandwich" (a reference to the death of Mama Cass Elliot) sounds like something the sardonic Lennon would have said -- but Elliot died several years after the Beatles broke up. McGann/Lennon also makes several jokes about being dead.

There is also a comment about Patti being in the audience with Eric that seems intended as a rather cruel reference to the fact that George's wife, Patti Boyd, ran off with his friend Eric Clapton -- also several years after the Beatles broke up.

The quartet closed Act 2 with "Revolution." They returned to dedicate "Birthday" to "George -- wherever he is" and to anyone who would be celebrating a birthday in the next 12 months (George Harrison will be 58 tomorrow).

Overall, "Get Back!" brings to mind Mick Jagger's recollections of watching the Rutles play Che Stadium in 1965 and thinking that it could be the Rutles, but it could be somebody else. Close your eyes, listen with your heart, and "Get Back!" is kinda sorta close enough that it could be the Beatles. Or maybe the Rutles. Or maybe somebody else.

"Get Back!"

Bullet Dates: 8 tonight and 2 p.m. tomorrow
Bullet Place: Hawaii Theatre Center
Bullet Tickets: $20 to $35
Bullet Call: 528-0506

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