Picks and Pans Review: Beatlemania—the Movie

Resurrection is rarely successful, except in show business. Various Elvis imitators, who often sound like death warmed over, have nevertheless prospered. In four years on Broadway and on tour, Beatlemania grossed more than $40 million, and as a movie, the show seems likely to collect a lot of what can’t buy you love. Like the stage show, the movie is a simulated Beatles’ concert and multimedia show in which four young actor-musicians impersonate the Fab Four. John Lennon is played by David Leon, Paul McCartney by Mitch Weissman, George Harrison by Tom Teeley and Ringo Starr by Ralph Castelli. (Only Weissman was in the original quartet that opened the show on Broadway in 1977.) Both visually and musically, their impersonation is eerily realistic; at times the resemblance even overshadows the performance. The real stars of Beatlemania, though, are 30 Beatles songs. Much less effective is the film’s attempt to sketch the social evolution of the era between Camelot and Woodstock, The songs are backed by film clips and streamer headlines (“LT. CALLEY CHARGED WITH MY LAI MURDERS”) that recall Vietnam, drugs, civil rights and the Generation Gap. Film clips and songs are sometimes mordantly combined; LBJ is shown onscreen while the foursome sings Nowhere Man. More often the parallels are cute or limp. Hard-core buffs will regard the show as a ghoulish rip-off. Younger fans may more uncritically relish this as the next best thing to having been there. (PG)

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