Play: The Concert
Group: Upstream Theater
Venue: 305 South Skinker Blvd.
Dates: April 10,11,12,13,17,18,19,20
Tickets: From $15 to $20; contact 314-863-4999 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Story: On December 8, 2000, the 20th anniversary of the murder of ex-Beatle John Lennon, a statue of the singer-composer-musician was unveiled in a public park in Havana, of all places, in a ceremony marking a reversal of the government’s repression of rock music in the 1960s and ‘70s. Cuban playwright Ulises Rodriguez Febles was inspired by that moment to craft El Concierto (The Concert), a whimsical fable about a security guard and modern-day Peter Pan who steals the statue and brings it to his garage, where he has constructed a shrine to The Beatles emulating The Cavern, a Liverpool nightclub where the quartet once played.
The aging Johnny, an apparently divorced father who lives once again in his parents’ house, strives to reunite his one-time garage band that performed covers of tunes by the Fab Four only to be crumpled by the harsh realities of the police state. Now, his dream undaunted, Johnny comes up against reality and the relentless march of time, both from strangers and from those close or formerly close to him.
Highlights: Translated into English by William Gregory, The Concert is a captivating cautionary tale about the passions of youth, the dedication to a dream and the sometimes sad juxtaposition of reality and fantasy. Artistic director Philip Boehm once again has found a treasure beyond American shores, as Upstream Theater performs the U.S. premiere of this delightful work. Boehm’s direction is loving, honest and affecting as it elicits several warm and witty performances from his cast.
Jerry Vogel is the cynosure of the tale, confidently inhabiting the strong-willed if stubborn and sad psyche of Johnny, whose refusal to give up his dream is both heroic and melancholy. J. Samuel Davis, Peter Mayer and Norman McGowan finely complement Vogel as the Paul, Ringo and George wannabes Zombie, Scorpion and The Leader, respectively, of their long-gone Cuban combo, The Crusaders. They offer several engaging moments, including fine a cappella work downstage on Beatles numbers and a wonderfully warm moment on Nowhere Man with Davis and McGowan swaying in that classically upbeat McCartney-Harrison style.
Other Info: There’s additional solid supporting work by Briston Ashe as an old woman, a nurse and a frolicsome dog, Thomasina Clarke as Johnny’s loving and long-suffering mother, Isabel Pastrana as Zombie-turned-butcher’s wife, Jane Paradise as the sorrowful mother of the tragically-stricken Leader and Terell W. J. Randall Sr. as the Scorpion’s teen-age son. Farshid Soltanshahi is the motionless statue of Lennon who charmingly comes to life once again in Johnny’s mind.
The play and production inject Beatles lyrics into the dialogue in amusing and enchanting fashion and, although I object from a purist’s standpoint to the use of lyrics from Lennon’s tune, Imagine, which was not a Beatles song, it’s OK from the standpoint of Johnny’s devotion to the lead Beatle. And the Yesterday interlude is simply a charming and unforgettable scene, reminiscent of the magical train station scene in The Fisher King.
The set design by Igor Karash includes both a look at the poverty of Havana and Johnny’s shrine to the English rockers, courtesy of props contributor Anna Blair and artist Inez Guzman. Effective costumes and lighting are by Michele Siler and Sean Savoie, respectively, and consultant Beatle Bob gives his stamp of approval to the proceedings.
Rating: A 4.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.