The Beatles Come to Cape Cod

October 24, 2008

Classical Mystery Tour

The Beatles came to the Barnstable High School Performing Arts Center in Hyannis last Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, in the form of the Classical Mystery Tour, a Beatles tribute band that specializes in performing with local symphony orchestras. The concert was the first in this season’s series of Pops concerts presented by Maestro Jung-Ho Pak and the Cape Cod Symphony Orchestra. The multi-generational crowd went wild, offering up not one, but three energetic standing ovations, singing and clapping along on cue, and having a glorious time, some remembering the magic of 40-plus years ago, and others feeling the energy of a “live” Beatles performance for perhaps the first time.

A Beatles orchestra performance may seem odd at first because the Beatles never performed live with an orchestra, but many Beatles songs were written for various degrees of orchestration and recorded with accompanying violins, cellos, horns, saxophones, and piccolo trumpets. “Eleanor Rigby,” for instance, was recorded with a double string quartet—no guitars at all, while trumpets add festivity to “Penny Lane.”
Some songs incorporated more instruments than others. According to Wikipedia, “Hey Jude” was recorded with an orchestra consisting of 10 violins, three violas, three cellos, two flutes, one contra bassoon, one bassoon, two clarinets, one contra bass clarinet, four trumpets, four trombones, two horns, percussion, and two string basses. In the original, the orchestra clapped their hands and sang along to the chorus. “All You Need Is Love” has a similar orchestral backup and includes snippets of classical works amid the melody.

Last weekend’s concerts began with an orchestral medley of some of the Beatles’ big hits. Mr. Pak conducted with verve and passion, but the orchestra-only rendition was missing some of the magic I had come to hear.

Finally the Beatles (Jim Owen as John Lennon, Tony Kishman as Paul McCartney, Tom Teeley as George Harrison, and Chris Camilleri as Ringo Starr) bounded out onto the stage, with almost enough energy for me to imagine that they really were the Beatles. They were all good musicians; the drummer was particularly impressive, and it was remarkable how much each singer looked and sounded like his Beatles character. Their costumes added to the illusion, beginning with their tailored suits, moving to Sgt. Pepper band uniforms, and finally to individual costumes, including a cream-colored suit, granny glasses, and longer hair for John. More use might have been made of a large screen behind the orchestra, which only occasionally displayed different colors, ripples on the water, or a peace sign.

The songs were all familiar to the audience and well-received. I was a little disappointed though, wanting the singers to be more like Beatles, to sound more like them, to sing with more characteristic harmonies, move more like them, express the Beatles’ quirky sense of humor more often, and to call each other John, Paul, George, and Ringo, not their real names. There was an occasional odd joke; toward the end, “John” said, “We only have time for a few more songs, and this song is one of them.” You probably had to have been there. It was funny in a nice Beatles-like deadpan way.
Highlights included Mr. Kishman’s rendition of “Yesterday” as Paul, with acoustic guitar and strings, which was appropriately tender. Good use of the orchestra was made on “All You Need Is Love,” and the trumpets were delightful in “Penny Lane.” I also enjoyed “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” for its varied and creative use of the orchestral instruments. “Eleanor Rigby” was satisfying, featuring string players. There was a nice echo effect in “A Day in the Life,” and the intensifying crescendo was excellent.

“While My Guitar Gently Weeps” included some impressive guitar playing (Eric Clapton played guitar in the recorded version) and some psychedelic musical effects. Mr. Kishman also took the lead in “Long and Winding Road,” looking and sounding remarkably like Paul McCartney at the piano, with most of the orchestra playing. As John, Mr. Owen did a good job on “Imagine.” “Hey Jude” was played as an encore, the overhead disco light flashing, and the entire audience enthusiastically singing along.

My main complaint was the sound system. The amplification of the guitars was excessive, obscuring more delicate and varied contributions of the orchestra, and the singers seemed to want to belt out every song, rather than offering some of the more nuanced renditions. All the rock equipment: guitars, microphones, amplifiers, and drums tended to hide the orchestra from view as well.

Jung-Ho Pak looked great in his Sgt. Pepper jacket, though, and he seemed to be doing a magnificent job conducting the orchestra, or various elements of it, through the performance.

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