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Backbeat

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Backbeat, based on Iain Softely’s 1994 film of the same title, is not a musical play about The Beatles as the exquisitely consummate rock ‘n roll band that has become the stuff of legend in modern day musicology. It takes place way before the lore of the Fab Four had gained so much popular traction.

In fact, the lads from Liverpool numbered five at this point in their evolution as the world’s greatest band. Pete Best (Performed by Oliver Bennett) was the drummer, not Ringo Starr (Adam Sopp). Another band member was Stuart Sutcliffe (Nick Blood); he was John Lennon’s best friend, whom Lennon (Andrew Knott) met at art school. Paul McCartney (Daniel Healy) was part and parcel of the group ever since the band’s earliest monikers, including The Silver Beetles. And George Harrison (Daniel Westwick) joined the group, early-on, when he was a mere 14 year-old.

Backbeat (adapted for the stage by Iain Softley and Stephen Jeffreys) traces the rise of The Beatles from 1960 to 1963, including their time as overworked musicians in the notorious nightclubs of Hamburg, Germany. Most of the time, in Germany, the group played extraordinary covers of other musicians’ songs. Their sets would last six hours at a time, seven days a week.  Please "Mr. Postman" and "Twist and Shout" are two such examples of the affably harmonious Beatle interpretations yielded from the rigors of Hamburg.

Directed by David Leveau, with an eye toward Broadway, Backbeat – now in its American premiere at Los Angeles’ Ahmanson Theatre, through March 1—has already played with success at the Glasgow Citizens Theatre and on London’s West End. And though the sound design (by Richard Booker) in this production is often distorted to the point of being indecipherable, the music is nonetheless contagious.

Moreover, Backbeat gives us an intriguing back story to The Beatles. Yoko Ono wasn’t the only woman to leave an indelible mark on The Beatles' legacy. There was also Astrid Kirchherr (Leanne Best), Stuart Sutcliffe’s German love interest. It was she who developed The Beatles look, from the mop-top hairdos to the collarless matching suits – no small contribution to The Beatles gestalt.

With insights and Beatles tidbits not part of common Beatles factoids, we see the band take shape through the forces of fate, talent and mentorship, including that of manager Brian Epstein (Mark Hammersley) and record producer George Martin (James Wallace). There is one scene in which McCartney is strumming an original tune with his simple lyrics: "Love Me Too." When Lennon hears the number, he advises Paul to get past rhyming for its own sake and instead work on the emotionality of the tune. Of course, "Love Me Too" eventually became "Love Me Do," and the rest is rock ‘n roll history.

On a dank and murky set (by Andrew D. Edwards, from an original concept by Christopher Oram), the design evokes the dreary days of post-war desperation in Deutschland. It seems that the high energy sounds of raucous rock ‘n roll was one of the only uplifts available to German youth of the day.

And Backbeat makes clear what a gift the upbeat Beatles' music was to Germany and, eventually, to the whole world. Amazingly, the performers make The Beatles' sound come alive and thrive, while using the music to punctuate the loosely flowing narrative. Capturing the original melodic elation and singular style of The Beatles, the musicianship of the players in Backbeat is impressive. What’s more, Backbeat is the sordid story of rock ‘n roll’s top-billed band of all time. It includes romance, bromance, creative conflicts and, above all, the music of The Beatles.

Backbeat continues at the Ahmanson Theatre through March 1. The theater is located at 135 North Grand Avenue, Los Angeles. Evening performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. Matinees are at 2 p.m. on Saturdays and at 1 p.m. on Sundays. There are also 6:30 p.m. showings on Sundays. For reservations, call (213) 628-2772. For online ticketing and further information, visit www.centertheatregroup.org


 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.