Star-Bulletin Features

"Beatlemania Live!" is especially good with the later music of the Beatles, including the "Sgt. Pepper" era.

These Faux Four are
the real thing

Review by John Berger

Waiting for "Beatlemania Live!" on Saturday night gave this Beatles fan plenty of time to think about such bits and pieces of the Fab Four's legacy as Yoko Ono and Ethiopians, deed beetles, the Rutles (Barry, Stig, Dirk and Nasty) and the entire phenomenon of celebrity impersonators.

Hawaii has seen a small army of impersonators, and several full-on celebrity impersonator shows, over the last 25 years. We've seen top-line performances of artists such as Jonathan Von Brana and Sy and enjoyed the high-tech extravagance of "Legends in Concert," as well as bottom-of-the-barrel, cut-rate local efforts in which the performers' ambitions have exceeded their talents and material.

And as for Beatles impersonators, it was just over a year ago that "Get Back!" played a three-nighter at the Hawaii Theatre. The "Get Back!" show was an experience where, if you closed your eyes and didn't listen too critically, everything was kinda sorta close enough to what the Beatles probably would have sounded like under similar circumstances, but then on the other hand, it could have been the Rutles playing or, as Mick Jagger said of seeing the Rutles in 1965, maybe somebody else.

Suffice it to say that "Beatlemania Live!" was a wonderful surprise. Maybe it was the scripting and the presentation. Maybe it was the talent and individual charisma of David John (George), John Preston (Ringo), Mac Ruffing (Paul) and Steve Sheridan (John). Whatever the reason, "Beatlemania Live!" turned out to be more than two solid hours of straight, high-caliber entertainment.

The characterizations were crisp. The musical arrangements were on. The show was smoothly paced and well executed throughout. It was better than "Get Back!"

The first hour was a celebration of the great rock and pop hits of the Beatles' middle period (1964-66), when they were too big for club dates but still playing much of their early rock repertoire. This is the part of the Beatles' U.S. chronology that is always easiest to accept as a celebrity impersonation set since it was the era when they were still touring, wearing relatively conventional suits and performing primarily as a basic bass-drums-guitars quartet.

Ruffing and Preston were tops as look-alikes in Act 1; Preston had Ringo's distinctive head-nodding drumming style down perfectly. Ruffing played well visually as the "cute" Beatle. He and Sheridan did most of the talking, of course, remaining in character throughout.

There was no intermission to speak of -- the Faux Fab Four ducked off just long enough to change into their Sgt. Pepper uniforms. From that point on, they succeeded in achieving the additional suspension of reality required to get discerning fans to accept them as the Beatles playing their post-1966 material in concert setting. Any fan knows that most of what the Beatles recorded after "Rubber Soul" could not have been performed live. The "Get Back!" show used music tracks to fill in most for missing instruments and studio trickery. "Beatlemania Live!" asked us to imagine that the Beatles had access to modern equipment.

Credit Ruffing and Sheridan with making that premise seem reasonable. Sheridan and John stepped behind keyboards to embellish selections from "Strawberry Fields Forever" to "Got to Get You Into My Life."

The quartet leap-frogged through several Beatles albums, performing such hits as "Back in the U.S.S.R.," "Something," "Here Comes the Sun" and "Lady Madonna." "Revolution" closed the show on a rousing political high. "Hey Jude" was an excellent choice as encore.

The Faux Fab Four did a great job as the Beatles.

Louise Harrison, who has been working the Beatles tribute show circuit since her brother's death last year, opened the show shortly after 8 p.m.

She talked for almost 30 minutes about George's visit in the fall of 1963, when the Beatles were still unknown in America, and about the hubbub and excitement involved in visiting him in New York after Beatlemania hit the States several months later.

She eventually asked for audience questions, but the best the crowd could come up with was, "What's he doing now?" Lame indeed!

She returned just before the encore to plug a Web site and announce that nine copies of an album she'd recorded were available for sale at $25 each. Perhaps similar opportunities are out there for Patti Boyd, Mike McGear and Brian Epstein's valet as well.

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