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The Beatles and John and Yoko don't mix in Lennon: A Musical Play
by Katie Hickox, Beatles News Liverpool Reporter
"Lennon," written and produced by Bob Eaton, is really two completely different plays based on two different periods in John Lennon"s life: pre-Yoko in the first half and post-Beatles in the second half. According to "Lennon", John is a different person with the Beatles before meeting Yoko. That all changes after John meets Yoko and he splits up with the Beatles so he can be with her. John changes from being "Beatle John" to becoming part of "JohnandYoko," a politically active couple who use their celebrity status to further the cause of peace as exemplified during their highly publicized bed-in for peace for several months at the Amsterdam Hilton hotel.
The first half is the highlight of "Lennon," John Lennon's life story, is really the story about the Beatles" success. "Lennon" brilliantly tells this magical story in words spoken using Liverpudlian accents and in song using the many Beatles hit classics. Because the story of John Lennon and the Beatles is really the classic story of rags to riches of how in John's words, "We were just a band, that made it very, very big", the audience is carried away and shares in their success and rise to the top almost like cheering on one's home football team knowing they'll win. So the Beatles win big, they hit the big time by appearing on the Ed Sullivan show and they become the most successful rock 'n roll band of all time and the audience gets to enjoy their exhilarating success along with the fantastic music of the Beatles.
"Lennon" in the first half of the musical brilliantly covers each phase in John's life in Liverpool, his early years as a young boy who was influenced by his mother Julia who taught him how to play the banjo, John's first band that he formed the Quarrymen which in turn led to the creation of the Beatles. The success of the early Beatles brought them local gigs that in turn led to a very important assignment in Hamburg where they learned how to "mach shau".
After the Beatles returned back to Liverpool, they continued their rise in popularity by playing at the Cavern Club where they caught the eye of Brian Epstein who offers to manage them and get them a recording contract. The audience is further drawn into John's life story and the rise of the Beatles with help from photos and video clips of those early days that are projected above the stage in a round screen.
The first half ends with John and Yoko dancing together to the Beatles playing "All You Need is Love" after having met for the first time at the Indica Gallery.
Scene from Lennon
The second half goes downhill once Yoko Ono takes center stage in John's life. After John meets Yoko he no longer wants to stay in the Beatles and he wants a divorce from the Beatles so he can be with her. Staying in the Beatles is no longer fun and is full of discord as shown during recording sessions depicted in the second half of "Lennon". In contrast to the first half, the second half is a drag for everyone including the audience because the Beatles no longer fit into John's new life with Yoko. Staying in the Beatles gets in the way of John's new life with Yoko who isn't happy during the recording sessions. In "Lennon," Yoko's body language is extremely telling, for example, when she sits next to John during a recording session, she appears to be sulking. It is obvious she doesn't enjoy being there because she looks sullen and doesn't tap her foot in contrast to the Beatles who are smiling while they're singing.
By the way, there are no multi-media video clips displayed and there are very few photos displayed in the second half except for a puzzling photo of a microphone, which adds to the bleak atmosphere which underscores the discord during the last days of the Beatles.
In the second half, John becomes a different person when he's with Yoko, he is no longer a famous rocker with the Beatles knocking out hit songs. John is no saint as Yoko's husband when he strays and has sex with a stranger at a party and consequently Yoko kicks him out for 18 months. During his 18 month "lost weekend" period John frequently makes a fool of himself getting drunk and "Lennon" portrays him hitting rock bottom when he gets kicked out of the Club Troubadour in Los Angeles for putting a sanitary napkin on the top of his head.
The audience winces and feels badly for John who is screwing up badly during this phase of his life but then he reconciles with Yoko. Out of this reconciliation they have a baby boy "Sean". John then becomes a house husband and stays home to "make bread" while Yoko looks after the business. John is elated when he finally gets his green card, making him an American citizen, but soon after "Lennon" comes to an end with three popping noises to symbolize the gun shots that killed John Lennon. Yoko has the last word about John"s death and apologizes for not having done more to provide better security for John.
"Lennon" would be a better musical if the second half focused more on the more positive aspects of John's life in the seventies, his successful boating trip to Bermuda despite traveling during hurricane season and his vacation in Bermuda during which he wrote many new songs for his final Double Fantasy album, his new album Walls and Bridges that gave him a number one hit song with "Whatever Gets You Thru the Night", his relationship with May Pang that encouraged John during his so called "lost weekend" to see his first son Julian and to get together with several of his Beatles bandmates, and above all the positive impact that John had on many young people's lives in his quest for peace in the seventies.
"Lennon" in the second half makes no mention of John's role in helping out his fellow Beatles bandmate Ringo Starr by giving away several songs for Ringo to record such as "I"m the Greatest" which John had written for Ringo'"s 1973 "Ringo" album. None other than John Lennon, George Harrison and Ringo Starr play on this "I'm the Greatest" but unfortunately "Lennon" focuses instead on his relationship with Yoko which takes the audience on an emotional roller coaster ride in which John is no saint and Yoko makes the decisions in John's life, sometimes for the worse.
Paul McCartney finally makes a brief but odd appearance in the second half by visiting John and sampling some of John's homemade bread by tearing off a piece. Sadly, in "Lennon" this loaf of bread seems to symbolize that John is no longer is interested in or has time to spend with Paul or any of his other Beatles bandmates because he's just too busy staying home even though John finally jokes making bread is too much work and it's easier to buy it from the store.
"Lennon" should be split into two different musicals, the first musical about the Beatles and John Lennon which keeps the first half from "Lennon" but then creates a new second half that covers the post-Beatles successful solo careers for not only John, but also his fellow Beatles bandmates Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr. The second musical would be based upon the second half of "Lennon" which could be expanded upon by focusing more on the many positive successes of John's life in the seventies as outlined earlier and by focusing less on John's drinking binges and the marital problems between John and Yoko.
"Lennon" recently finished a four week run November 13th at the Liverpool Royal Court Theatre and will be coming to the United States and opening up a run on Broadway in New York City sometime in the spring of 2011 according to one source.
Published November 15, 2010
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