Monday, June 19, 2006

LENNON: A New Musical


To put the life and music of John Lennon into theater in an apparent attempt to cash in on the recent trend of what we now commonly referred to as the Jukebox musical trend that Broadway seems to espouse nowadays owing to the mega- success of ABBA’s “Mama Mia!” is an ambitious project to do. In spite of the failed Beach Boys’ “Good Vibrations” as well as the current new homage to Elvis’ Music in “All Shook Up” you can only question how far this new genre can go without jeopardizing the Great White Way’s reputation of being home to original well- penned and well- crafted shows.

Lennon the Musical, which recently opened at the famed and historic Broadhurst Theater at 235 W. 44th St. between New York City’s 8th Avenue and Broadway, was nothing but a hollow stab to convey to us the different stages of complexities, eccentricities and finally, enlightenment in the life of an ex- Beatle named John. It was supposed to be a tell- all musical of his short life, but it turned out to be an edited version of his life-- a life that we much already know of . It is a musical masquerading as a tribute to the Man and His Music but turns out to be in this case, an updated version of the Ballad of Yoko and John sans Lennon’s formative years and success with the Beatles. Also, it made no mention of his substance abuse and volatile behavior and his interlude with May Pang. Imagine John Lennon’s life without the years with the Fab Four nor Cynthia and Julian?

Don Scardino (Broadway Credits- Director: Sacrilege/Performer: Godspell), the show’s creator and director delved much on John Lennon’s life after the Beatles and all for a reason. He focused mainly on his post- Beatles life with Yoko Ono in obvious deference to John’s widow whom he sought permission and collaborated in writing the musical and whose influence can be felt throughout the show. In a typical Ms. Ono fashion which is as famous as her chilling primal scream, you could tell her hand in the multi-cultural casting where John Lennon was played by nine different actors to denote the “universality” of his appeal and music as well as the conspicuous presence of a giant cut-out of her head appearing in the background in the end as if to tell us of her enormous presence in Lennon‘s life. Yes, it is indeed unique and creative in a way but still it fails to convey to the audience the real essence and objective of the musical.

The cast took turns in playing John by donning his trademark round wire- rim glasses. Will Chase turns out to be the audience’s favorite what with his resemblance to the late Beatle but also with his convincing Liverpool accent and affective performance. They also did some songs by the Beatles in their Ed Sullivan Show re-enactment performed by four female cast members but none of his collaboration with his erstwhile writing partner, Paul McCartney who was again snubbed which to many die- hard fans of John and the Beatles constitute to something close to blasphemy. It also tried but failed to impress on us that John is just a lost and wandering soul until he found the visionary Yoko Ono and had his epiphany and the rest is history- All you need is love, bed- in and peace.

The cast some of them Broadway veterans in their own right did their best but were limited by the show’s shallow roles given to them. The Filipina Broadway veteran Julie Danao- Salkin (Rent, The Karaoke Show, Saturday Night Fever) who hails from Quezon City though is far too- sweet to do a convincing Yoko Ono. Then there is the attempt to elicit some laughs albeit with little success from the audience by portraying his nemesis and persecutor, the late FBI Boss J. Edgar Hoover in red high heels as well as casting a woman as Elton John and Ed Sullivan being played by a black man just to name a few. There was another instance where one cast member pretending to be Ringo Starr having a bout with diarrhea!

The musical whose songs were mostly lifted from his final album, “Double fantasy” took us in a not-so-magical mystery tour of John’s life complete with backdrops of his art works, significant persons and events in the course of his short life- from his birth in 1940 up to his death in the hands of Mark David Chapman outside the Dakota Building near Central Park on December 8, 1980 which was not shown but told by a police officer that was supposed to be the first one on the scene of the crime. John’s ode to his son, Sean- “Beautiful Boy” was sang impressively by Julia Murney and Marcy Harrell’s intense rendition of “Woman Is The Nigger Of The World.“ is worth noting. The Flower- power song “Give Peace A Chance” is as timeless as ever. Although Ms. Ono released two previously unpublished songs by John just for the production- “India, India” and “I Don‘t Want To Lose You“, still the two- hours and ten minutes musical lacks depth, flair and color.

Despite all its flaws and imperfections, Lennon the musical is still worth watching, $100+ (although I got mine for $50 bucks) notwithstanding. For the die- hard Lennon Fanatic in us, just to take us back in time and reminisce about the life of Popular Music’s foremost iconic figure is consolation enough but whether it will survive and stand the test of time in its current Broadway run is another story. There are some ups and downs but that is John’s life was all about- a rollercoaster ride.

The final cut says it all when the “Imagine” video was shown and there was the MAN and his VOICE and his MUSIC in black and white who touched most of every one of us throughout his life but sadly, the show come to think of it, tried more to entice us to listen to the version of HER STORY.

August 2005

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