John Lennonand the Beatles are virtually synonymous, yet a Broadway-bound musical, "Lennon," gives short shrift to the Fab Four in its recounting of Lennon's life. On the other hand, the new musical conceived and directed by Don Scardino has much to recommend in its world premiere production. With more than two dozen songs by Lennon, a script created mainly from Lennon's own words, a dynamite nine-member cast and first-rate production values, the show moves briskly and has numerous high points. What it doesn't have is any of the great Beatle hits composed by Lennon and Paul McCartney.
The show achieves part of its unity when Lennon himself is heard singing "Imagine" at the beginning and the end as images of the ill-fated Columbia space shuttle are shown orbiting the Earth and when a police officer recalls how he heard about Lennon's death at the hands of a gunman in 1980 (can it really be almost 25 years ago?). The beginning segues into images of the air raid that accompanied Lennon's birth in Liverpool, England, in 1940. From there it follows Lennon's life from his boyhood through his first major musical influences: Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly. It continues with the rock bands that preceded the Beatles, then the Beatles and their growing fame, including their visit to India. Along the way, Lennon meets an artist, Yoko Ono, who becomes the love of his life and ultimately his wife. Act 1 ends with their arrival in New York City.
The shorter Act 2 deals with his activism with the anti-war movement, the U.S. government's efforts to deport him, his separation from and reunion with Ono, and the birth of his second son, Sean. (He had another son, Julian, with his first wife, Cynthia, when he was much younger.) Except for the anti-war scenes, which seem painfully contemporary, the second act is less involving than the first.
With the approval of Yoko Ono Lennon, who attended opening night, Scardino made the interesting decision to have Lennon portrayed by each member of the multi-racial cast at various points. The idea is that the show is about Lennon's search for himself and his belief that people are all one, Scardino says in his program notes. It's an interesting idea that works well, but it also might be somewhat distancing. The energetic, talented cast includes Will Chase, Chuck Cooper, Julie Danao, Mandy Gonzalez, Marcy Harriell, Chad Kimball, Terrence Mann, Julia Murney and Michael Potts.
Wearing black pants and black turtlenecks (costumes by Jane Greenwood), they stroll onto the stage before the show begins and quietly greet each other and the 10-member onstage orchestra, conducted by musical director Jeffrey Klitz on synthesizer. Behind the orchestra are three white panels where various photographs and other visuals are projected (set and projections by John Arnone). In the center is a circular platform with a white piano. On the side are racks of costumes that the actors use throughout the show. Natasha Katz's lighting design includes some light-show effects. The effective choreography is by Joseph Malone, the sound by Bobby Aitken.
Besides "Imagine," some of the better known songs in the show are "Give Peace a Chance," "The Ballad of John and Yoko," "Woman," "Starting Over" and "Instant Kama." However, a few tastes of the now-classic Beatles songs co-composed by Lennon would be welcome.
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