Tag Archives: Ed Sullivan

The road to “Rain”

Rain “Ed Sullivan” set (Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

One of my earliest childhood memories is tied to The Beatles, the British band that made their American debut on the Ed Sullivan show in 1963. I was three years old at the time, but soon I was strapping my father’s electric guitar over my little neck and strumming through imaginings of being my own tiny version of a rock star. During third grade, I used to chase a boy named Eric around the baseball diamond — eager to give him love notes full of The Beatles lyrics written in pencil on crumpled up pieces of wide-ruled notebook paper. Sadly, I ended up “marrying” another boy at the altar of a metal playground fence later that year.

I was a college student sitting in a German rathskeller in Heidelberg, at the end of a long table with a rustic feel, when programming on a television screen I’d been ignoring was interrupted by news of John Lennon’s death in December of 1980. That got my attention — as did news in 2001 that George Harrison, whose fascination with Indian culture was similar to my mother’s, died from the cruel tyranny of cancer. Harrison was in his sixth decade of life, as I am now.

Rain “Sgt. Pepper” set (Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

The Beatles have been a backdrop for much of my life, and the life of Mark Lewis (plus many millions of others) as well. Lewis is the founder of “Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles” to ASU Gammage this week. They began as “Reign” but changed the name after people kept flubbing the spelling. Rain recreates the music (and more) of The Beatles — making for a lovely bit of memory lane for us old-timers and a smashing reintroduction for younger souls never steeped in Beatlemania. (Poor dears.)

Lewis also got into the music groove quite early in life — thanks to piano lessons started at age five that left him “an accomplished pianist” by age 13. In between, Lewis encounted music by The Beatles. Blame it all on his mom. She made him turn the television channel, under protest, as he was deep in the throws of a Walt Disney show. Seems The Beatles were about to make their American television debut on the Ed Sullivan Show. Soon Lewis was the proud owner of the “Meet the Beatles” album.

Rain “Abbey Road” set (Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

Today he’s the father of two sons, ages 18 and 23, who keep busy with their own musical adventures. One graduates from college this month with a degree in journalism, after resisting the temptation to drop out and tour with Wayward. Another graduates soon from the Reno high school where he’s done marching band, youth honors jazz band and more. He’s trying out for a professional drum corps, and readying to enter the University of Nevada at Reno as a music major. Whether the music becomes a profession or simply something he loves is “something he’ll have to figure out for himself,” says Lewis.

But back in the day, Lewis was a kid born and raised in L.A., who went to Hollywood High School. He joined a band that went on to play a club in Calabasas called the Mine Shaft, where Dick Clark first heard them perform. Clark was looking for a band to perform songs by The Beatles for a “Birth of The Beatles” film (eventually released in 1979).

Rain “Shea Stadium” set (Photo: Cylla von Tiedemann)

After the show, Clark asked the band to record and send him an audition tape featuring four songs by The Beatles. Lewis shared three the morning we spoke, just days after Clark’s death in April — “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” “All My Loving” and “She Loves You.” Others auditioned as well, but Lewis and his bandmates got the gig. Lewis says they “did more than 30 songs in one-and-a-half days” for the film. “Dick Clark came to the recording sessions,” recalls Lewis. “He was the nicest guy.”

Clark and the band were among those who attended the movie’s premiere. Lewis recalls Clark approaching the band to tell them they’d done a great job, impressed that he’s remembered each of their names. “Dick Clark was an icon,” says Lewis. “He changed our careers — he put us on the map.” That map’s taken “Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles” to Broadway and beyond, even earning the show a 2011 Drama Desk Award for outstanding revue. Click here for ASU Gammage show and ticket information. Then sit back and let it be.

– Lynn

Note: Click here to learn more about Mark Lewis and “Rain” band members

Coming up: “Annie” tales

Update: Click here to learn about a documentary called “The Beatles: The Lost Concert.” 5/8/12

Monday, Monday

The house was full of baby boomers Sunday afternoon as Phoenix Theatre presented an updated version of the work they debuted in 2007 — a “nearly true story of the Mamas & Papas” dubbed “Dream a Little Dream.” It explores the intertwined and sometimes twisted personal and professional lives of four musicians — John Phillips, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty and Mama Cass. It’s directed and choreographed by Michael Barnard.

The work originated as a monologue performance by Doherty, first performed in Nova Scotia during 1996. It was directed by Paul Ledoux, who now shares the bookwriting credit with Doherty. Seeing Doherty’s take made me long for a version akin to the movie “Vantage Point” — which considers events from the perspectives of several folks close to the scene of a crime.

Explore the life and times of The Mamas & The Papas through May 27 at Phoenix Theatre

The Phoenix Theatre cast includes two actors from their previous production of “Dream a Little Dream” — Alisa Schiff-Warner (Mama Cass) and Michael Sample (John Phillips). Evan Siegel (Denny Doherty) and Tori Anderson (Michelle Phillips) are new to Phoenix Theatre. All four are members of Actor’s Equity Association, the union of professional actors and stage managers in the U.S.

Behind all the groovy tunes (and sometimes within them), there was plenty of “Sturm und Drang.” Sexual liaisons. Drug use. Lousy choices in matters big and small. It made me think the show should be required viewing for high schoolers who assume too often that all those hippie years were laced with magic rather than mayhem. The show’s final scenes are especially bittersweet, and touching even to those who already know how the story ends.

“Dream a Little Dream” features dozens of songs, so fans of The Mamas & The Papas get a good fix. My personal favorites during the show included “500 Miles” and “Monday, Monday.” Also “San Francisco,” sung by Sam Sherwood (Scott McKenzie) in front of vintage footage from the “City on the Bay” and “Dream a Little Dream” featuring soulful, bluesy vocals by Kimball.

Much of the show’s humor stems from vignettes with fellow famous folk like John Lennon (Sam Sherwood) and Ed Sullivan (Beau Heckman). Its greatest visual appeal is lighting (Mike Eddy) with a psychedelic vibe and costumes (Connie Furr-Soloman) equally lush in pattern and color. Dark set elements apparently painted to make a glow in the dark effect possible were a bit off-putting.

I’d have preferred a cleaner palette for the show’s other design elements — and wish the live band’s sound hadn’t been somewhat muted by its placement behind the show’s backdrop. Still, it’s a fun bit of musical theater meets memory lane. Haul out your go-go boots and all things fringe. Then take a spin back in time, grateful if you’re old enough to have both lived through and survived the ’60s.

– Lynn

Note: Phoenix Theatre performs “Dream a Little Dream” through May 27 — click here for show and ticket information. Click here to read more about the life and times of The Mamas & The Papas in a Vanity Fair piece titled “California Dreamgirl” by Sheila Weller .

Coming up: Mark Lewis talks Beatles tribute “RAIN”

Don’t push my buttons!

Pushing buttons…

It’s a common occurrence when the “teen taxi” is in service.

Sometimes it’s the emotional kind, but usually it’s just the radio that’s in play. I push the ‘70s button, Christopher pushes the ‘80s button, Jennifer pushes the country/western button and Lizabeth pushes the Broadway button.

'50s crooner Eddie Fisher

We get a ‘50s station thanks to Sirius XM, but it’s never had its own button. James and I are at the back of the “Boomers,” born in the ‘60s after the heyday of soda jerks and juke boxes.

So it surprised me when I actually got chills listening to the cast of Greasepaint Youtheatre’s The Sound of Plaid” perform the show’s final number, “Love is a Many Splendored Thing.”

The show—an Arizona premiere of “The Sound of Plaid: The New Glee Club Version of Forever Plaid”—features mostly music popularized in the ‘50s. Think “Lady of Spain” and “Three Coins in the Fountain.”

I attended the Saturday matinee at Greasepaint Youtheatre (formerly Stagebrush Theatre) in Scottsdale, which was also enjoyed by youth from a variety of non-profit organizations—including Free Arts of Arizona, Chrysalis and Girl Scouts.

Collaboration is a many splendored thing, and Phoenix Theatre does it so well.

I never met a mic I didn't like

I’m also rather partial to their take on all things plaid. If ever there was a show with the potential to be a monotonous “one note”—this has to be it. I’m more of a spandex and disco ball kind of a gal, so I really didn’t expect to find this show all that enchanting.

Contemporary crooner Michael Buble

But they had me with the very first notes out of the tuxedo-clad quartet that opened the show (all looking a bit like Michael Buble brandishing braces)—which follows the performance of a high school glee club who’ve come back to earth after perishing in a 1964 crash with another school bus.

Students on the other fictional bus, en route to watch the Beatles’ debut on the Ed Sullivan show, survived—but that’s the last we hear of them. They haven’t got the power of the plaid.

I loved the show’s many references to all things nostalgic. The club sang a round rather than a rap. They pined over LPs instead of iPods. They used words more common many decades ago—uranium, Korea, harmonic convergence—even “Holy cannoli!”

Ed Sullivan & the "Fab Four"

The show featured especially strong vocals, with plenty of stunning solos and heartfelt harmonies. I’d have to give the best overall performance award to Ryan Kitkowski, an Arcadia High School sophomore who plays Jinx with true comedic flair.

I was also impressed by the balance of various creative elements—the live music (piano, bass and drums), the simple but sophisticated scenic design, the polished costumes and the playful props.

The youngest trio of cast members—including 2nd grader Alex Kirby (Gladys), 3rd grader Sam Primack (Lionel) and 4th grader Madeline Bates (Irene)–were both capable and cute. Madeline is the youngest of three Bates siblings in the show, and the cast member I’d pick for “most likely to make it big as a dancer” one day.

The Andrew Sisters

As always, the Greasepaint Theatre lobby was transformed into a world reflecting the cultural context of the show. Patrons enjoyed clips of songs like “Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy” by the Andrew Sisters on a tiny black and white television. And yup, they even managed to dig up an old record player.

Exhibits featured photos and descriptions of cultural icons like American Bandstand—and true American idols like Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Big Mama Thornton and Bing Crosby. A mock recording studio with stand-up mic and “On the Air” sign made a great setting for snapping souvenir photos.

“The Sound of Plaid” makes for a refreshing afternoon or evening of theater for all ages (recommended for 5 & up). If you want to treat the grandparents in your life to some quality time with the grandkids, get them tickets to see this show.

Dick Clark

Or if you want your child to see the polished, but not plastic, performance of a real live “glee club”—this is the show for you. Long before 3-D televisions invade our family rooms and kitchens, we’ll have plenty of live performance art to transport young imaginations to new dimensions.

But don’t get me started. The tragedy of television time taking over theater time is one of my hot buttons…

–Lynn

Patsy Cline

Note: If, like my daughter Jennifer, the radio button you’re most fond of pushing is for country/western tunes, don’t miss the presentation of “Always…Patsy Cline” coming to Phoenix Theatre on May 19. It’s a touching glimpse into the world of singer Patsy Cline, whose life was cut tragically short by a plane crash in 1963 when she was just 30 years old.

Coming up: Spotlight on summer theater camps, including those offered by Phoenix Theatre, Childsplay, Valley Youth Theatre and more. If your child has had a positive experience with a Valley theater camp (or you’ve seen another youth theater production you’d like to recommend), feel free to comment below to let our readers know.