“Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles” opened in Austin last night at the Long Center. The show transports its audience back in time—to a time some of them still remember—the 1960s. Two large screens buttress the stage. A mimic of Ed Sullivan appears larger than life to introduce the Beatles, just as he did when they performed live in 1964. As the curtain draws up, the “Beatles” begin playing “I Want to Hold Your Hand.” Though the audience is not packed with screaming and fainting teenagers, applause rumbles and then roars through the packed auditorium.
The band mimics the Fab Four perfectly. When “Paul” and “John” speak, you have to remind yourself it’s not real. Even then, the momentum of the show takes over, and you become certain you are attending every Beatles concert they ever played. Between concerts, the screens show vintage commercials such as the Flintstones lighting up Winston cigarettes. Every detail of the show reinforces the time-machine effect.
The Ed Sullivan performance is followed by the Shea Stadium concert: the band switches costumes, screens fill with video clips of hysterical girls sporting bouffant hairdos, and the backdrop replicates the stadium. I got goosebumps listening to the clamor of the 1965 fans and following the panoramic images of the stadium. As “Lennon” starts playing “Twist and Shout,” sixty-year-old men and women leap from their seats to dance with one another. Soon the whole place is filled with twisting and shouting audience members.
Though they take their seats for the ballads, the audience claps to the beat as Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band plays “I am the Walrus.” They sing along with “When I’m 64” while psychedelic images move across the screens, lights flash various colors, and fog rises around the decked-out band members. No one is needing an intermission.
When the second half starts, everyone is anticipating their favorite Beatles’ numbers. The band is now outfitted to coordinate with the “Abbey Road” album cover. Just a few bars of “Come Together” inspire applause, and people jump up when they play “Get Back” and “Revolution.” As though attending a real concert, everyone stays standing and clapping at the end of the show, begging for an encore. Though audience members sit and sway as “Paul” plays “Let it Be,” he jokingly insists they stand for the final number. On their feet, the whole room sings the chorus of “Hey Jude”, men and women taking turns chanting “Na na na…”
Although nothing can replace the Beatles, for those of us who missed the worldwide phenomenon and were not lucky enough to be fans in the 60s, “Rain” revitalizes the legends. “Tribute” is not a strong enough word; movies like “Across the Universe” and shows like Cirque de Soleil’s “Love” are tributes. What “Rain” offers is reverence for the uniqueness of those musicians and their talents. The show does not merely celebrate the music, it brings the Beatles back to life.