Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Review: (Toronto) Backbeat

Nick Blood (photo credit: Nobby Clark)

friends start band, band becomes successful, life starts to get real
Backbeat is and is not the Beatles
by Dave Ross

Backbeat: The Birth of the Beatles is in dire need of a new name. Admittedly, calling it Stuart Sutcliffe, the Beatles and the Conflict That Took Place At The Same Time The Beatles Were Born doesn’t have quite the same ring, but let’s not beat around the bush. The Beatles themselves are almost secondary characters in this show. But that’s actually ok.
This is a jukebox musical, so don’t go into this show expecting to be dazzled by something fresh and new. The songs serve as a vehicle to deliver the story, such as it is. Unfortunately, it takes a few cranks of the engine to get the vehicle going and get the story moving as well. The story does suffer pacing issues, particularly in the first act. It only becomes apparent part way through that this is the story of Stuart Sutcliffe (Nick Blood), John Lennon (Andrew Knott), and the rift that developed between them as Sutcliffe fell in love with Astrid Kirchherr (Isabella Calthorpe).  The story is a familiar one—friends start band, band becomes successful, life starts to get real, tensions are revealed, friendships fall apart, someone dies and catharsis take place. 

the ensemble does an excellent job of portraying several different characters each

The cast is remarkably talented. All the music is performed live, and all the principal actors deliver excellent performances. It’s easy for musical covers to come across as lucklustre, but there is a wonderful energy here and also tenderness when the tone calls for it. None of the principals are caricatures, but deliver well-rounded characters. The ensemble does a great job as well, with a couple of minor exceptions. The German MC (who is clearly Cabaret-inspired and makes far too many appearances) is just shy of incredibly irritating, made all the more unbearable by his absolutely intolerable German accent.  Indeed, many of the German accents could benefit with additional practice. All of the Cabaret-esque moments seem out of place and jarring. Setting aside the accents though, the ensemble does an excellent job of portraying several different characters each, with no bleed amongst them.
The design of the production, by Andrew D. Edwards is well suited and very versatile. This is enhanced by the projections designed by Timothy Bird and Nina Dunn for Knifedge. The set is very spartan, but is enhanced by moving panels that carry different projections as needed, used to achieve interesting transitions between scenes and particularly effective when addressing Sutcliffe’s painterly ambitions. The show as a whole is solid, though I do have a few quibbles. After the curtain call, there is a surprise concert with the cast performing four musical numbers, demanding the audience rise in their seats and dance along. That energy is good, for one or two numbers. But the Royal Alex is a cozy venue, and no one was dancing by the fourth number. That positive energy quickly evaporated. Additionally, the ensemble spends a great deal of time dramatically lighting cigarettes, particularly in the first act. Director David Leveaux needs to find something else for them to do in these scenes. It doesn’t work and becomes tiresome quickly. 
All in all, this is a good show. I had been concerned about my enjoyment before the show, as I’m not the biggest fan of The Beatles, nor am I very familiar with their discography. However, as mentioned previously, Backbeat isn’t about the Beatles – they serve more as a framework in which the rest of the story can take place. My companion and I both had a great time once the story got rolling, and the audience really enjoyed the show as a whole. Mirvish has made a wise selection here. You’ll leave the theatre in great spirits, and sometimes that’s just right.

Backbeat continues at the Royal Alex

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated. Please read our guidelines for posting comments.