This is a guest article by John Cherry, author of Better Than Lennon  – Simon Barrett

As part of a series of five shows they performed during the week. The group Beatlemania Now performed at a sold out show on Saturday night, July 10th at the Manatee Players Theatre. Located in the old downtown section of Bradenton, the theatre holding approximately 250 people, mostly locals, was filled for the 8 pm show. The stage was set up with four large arrows across the back, simulating the setup for the Beatles first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show.

The band consisted of Davey Justice as Paul, Scott Arch, one of the original Beatlemania Broadway production members, as John, newcomer Jess Banner as George, and Bart Smith as Ringo.  Costume changes among the group were numerous, a minimum of a half dozen used to set the time period for The Beatles songs. Also setting a time frame for the music was video shown on a screen behind the group. Most of the significant events of the 60’s, starting with the John Kennedy assassination, were shown in some form during the show.

The first two songs were “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “She Loves You.” Both were satisfactory performances, although done in shortened versions that were not enhanced by the missing parts. Next was “I Saw Her Standing There,” “Roll Over Beethoven,” “I Feel Fine”-with opening feedback, “Can’t Buy Me Love,” and “Eight Days with Week,” which had the lyrics on the screen to aid in a chorus sing along. Justice then performed a creditable performance of “Yesterday,” with an electronic quartet backing. “We Can Work it Out” was performed without the Mellotron sound, leaving it a bit hollow. Video of The Beatles performance at Shea Stadium was showing on the back screen. A fairly rare Beatle tribute band song “In My Life” came next, followed by another Paul solo with “Eleanor Rigby.” Banner got his first solo on “Here Comes the Sun,” which was a fine performance, but the song again lacked musical depth. Now in Sgt. Pepper gear, the band did “Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band” and Smith’s first vocal in “With a Little Help from Friends.” A shortened version of “Strawberry Fields Forever,” came before one of the better performances of the night in “A Day in the Life.” This led the show to intermission.

In a twist I have not seen from other Beatle tribute band shows, Paul (Justice) wore headphones during “All You Need is Love,” while sitting cross legged on a chair. While this was similar to the actual video production of the song by The Beatles, the setup for the rest of the group was not. “Magical Mystery Tour,” complete with scenes from the movie on the screen, was another song that lacked depth, missing the brass portion that helps define the tune. Justice botched the lyrics a bit for “Penny Lane,” which precluded a crowd favorite “I Am the Walrus.” Arch, looking much like John Lennon, had a weak vocal for “Revolution,” but came back strong with his version of “Imagine.”

One of the surprises, and strongest performances of the night, came from Banner, playing the acoustic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” version from the “Love” CD. The electronic backing was timely and accurate. In front of a video showing The Beatles in their last show on the rooftop, “Get Back” was another song lacking depth, basically skipping the Billy Preston solo piano portion. Arch seemed to be trying to hard to sound like John Lennon in “Come Together,” which had an unidentified video on the screen that looked it could have been a “Rock Band” video version, except for the part of The Beatles riding off in go kart vehicles.

Before performing “Let it Be,” Banner spoke briefly about The Beatles heading toward a breakup, citing the death of manager Brian Epstein and the introduction of Yoko “ONO” (said with emphasis) to the rest of the group. Justice had his best performance of the night with “Let it Be” as the first closing song of the night. After coming back on stage to perform an encore, the band was introduced, the first and only chance to know their names at that point. The finale was “Hey Jude,” an enjoyable performance with the crowd standing and singing along as directed by Justice.

While I have seen lesser Beatle tribute bands, I would not put this version at the top of my list. Earlier this year, I saw the group Beatlemania in Venice, FL, and they were a much more polished version of the Fab Four. The characters were more Beatle like and the music and singing were much better. A local Sarasota Beatle tribute group, The Glass Onion Band, is also superior musically and vocally, while skipping the costumes and character emphasis. At $30 a ticket, I felt it was a bit pricy for the product, but still an enjoyable night of great music.

John Cherry

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