Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Nowhere Men – On the (Abbey?) Road, But Not Quite There Yet

Konrad McKane (Paul McCartney), Chandano Fuller (John Lennon), Elizabeth Champion (Yoko Ono), 
Dawn Horstead (Brianna Epstein), Brian Howelton (Ringo Starr), and Nick Liepman (George Harrison)

By Tina Arth

The producers of Nowhere Men graciously allowed me to watch a dress rehearsal of this original play by Shannon Doherty (book) and Borys Maciburko (book, music and lyrics). The cast were preparing for a one-night run at the Alpenrose Opera House, the second of two free local performances (the first at Hillsboro’s HART Theatre the previous week). The show is a one-act that takes place entirely on a fictional single night when the Beatles decide to break up their band. The actual breakup of arguably the greatest rock bank in history was, of course, a somewhat more drawn-out affair encompassing years of gradually escalating discord, varying rates of spiritual and musical growth, and disillusionment with the trappings of fame – but the “one night” approach contains the essence of a really fascinating story.

The program says that the show “tells the true story behind the fall of greatest band of all time” but a quick look at the cast list clearly reveals that this is a figurative, rather than a literal statement. Beatles manager Brian Epstein plays a prominent role (thinly disguised as “Brianna Epstein”) in the play about the band’s dissolution, but the Beatles’ last two albums, “Abbey Road” and “Let It Be” were released in 1969 and 1970 – well after Epstein’s death in 1967. There are other puzzling elements – for example, there is a brief love/lust scene between Paul McCartney and Brianna, yet the rumors of the time were about a sexual encounter between John Lennon and Brian Epstein. As a child of the sixties, I clearly remember my personal reaction to the final breakup of the Beatles – I blamed Yoko (didn’t we all?) and really only considered how my friends and I were affected. Nowhere Men tempts with the intriguing notion that it will tell an untold and powerful tale – the story of how each of the four Beatles felt about the band’s collapse. The core of this story is contained within the current script, but to be really effective the show needs to be work shopped with some experienced writers/performers and given the loving attention of a good script doctor.

A more difficult problem is that the authors (for good reason – it would cost a fortune!) do not have rights to use any songs from the Beatles catalogue. Maciburko worked around this by writing some original songs that have a Beatle-like flavor, including some very recognizable chord progressions; while each of the songs is fine on its own, they tend to blend together. Before taking Nowhere Men to a paying audience, the music will need to be made more distinctive.

When the show is next taken before an audience, a great deal more attention needs to be paid to costuming (in particular, the wigs), choreography (the Beatles used some choreographed movement, but the dancing in this show seemed to be reaching for something more like the Four Tops), direction (much of the acting was way over the top), and rehearsal (in particular, tech rehearsal so that audio effects can be smoothly incorporated into the production).

I hope to some day be able to see a new and vastly improved version of Nowhere Men - one that will deliver on the show’s tantalizing promise.

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