Edge – Boston

The Fringe Festival is presenting the guys whose trendy-long hair was itself fringe on the forehead. Once thought daring and scruffy (who knew grunge and punk were coming to make it seem mild?), those Beatles had a huge impact on music and society, still felt today. But you knew that. What you might also know are some/many of the facts and stories unspooled at johnpaulgeorgeringo.

As an avowed fan from childhood, who’s read and watched (and listened), I did. But since the questions come from the audience at each performance, what you hear will be largely different. Most of the show is simply Q and A. So, hope for interesting questions and ask some yourself. So here’ s the question — it’s about questions. If you had a chance to ask the Beatles a question from the perspective of 2008, and reflecting back on any time, what WOULD you ask? Don’t worry that two of the four have died. We have them all present, with John and George as if “visiting” from the other side, but just as down-to-earth as the living Beatles Ringo and Paul at their current ages (or perhaps ageless, but with the full knowledge of life up to the present).

This is a one-man show. That one man, skillfully playing all the Beatles (each audience member decides which one to address) is Dave Jay. An instantly likeable, attractive guy with a great smile and charming manner, Dave Jay simply changes voice and personality to be the Beatle of the moment, as easily as you’d change TV channels with a remote. He also sings a few (non-Beatles) songs, accompanying himself on guitar, with a low-key, ingratiating manner.

One assumes certain questions (or variations of them) are expected and answers planned (What did that first rush of fame feel like? What broke up the Beatles? Can you tell us about the groupies and drugs? What regrets do you have?) Certain known anecdotes could be worked into related questions easily enough, and there is a scriptwriter credit to this improvised show, and the credit goes to the performer and its director, Brad Calcaterra. The show is listed as being 55 minutes long and that timing was exact on opening night, when I attended.

Well, you probably have to come in with genuine interest in the Beatles to make this worth the visit, and hope for some entertaining and probing questions and answers that have some “wow-I-neverknew-that” potential. Too often on opening night, the queries were softball ones and the answers involved known trivia that wasn’t fascinating, all delivered in very causal, chatty ways without fiery or tender emotion. Some, of course, involved conjecture based on the clearly well informed performer’s expertise to extrapolate — what does John Lennon think of a certain recent rock act for example. My audience played along and didn’t try to trip him up or grab the spotlight, a danger in audience participation shows. Almost everyone who raised a hand was called on, with no favoritism. I can’t say whether or not there might be a few plants to get the ball rolling in case of a shy house. (It’s a small space at the Jazz Gallery, with several rows of seats, the first ones very close to the performer.) If you were setting things up, would you do that for insurance? I even asked a question myself, hoping for a little more singing and maybe improvised lyrics. I asked about the dummy lyrics (temporary nonsense words) known to have been set to their melodies as they were writing the songs and get the rhythms and structure in their heads so they’d scan. I remembered reading about the dummy lyrics to “Yesterday” being about having “Scrambled Eggs” (rhyming with a reference to a woman’s legs) and mentioned that. He dutifully spoke some of that dummy lyric, but when asked to sing a known Beatles melody with the original dummy lyrics, he said “I don’t remember them.”

He grabbed a few attempts at humor with quick answers: “Ringo, you replaced original drummer Pete Best. What did you have that he didn’t have?” (“A job!!”)… Big laugh. “John what was sex with Yoko like?” (“I suppose it depends who you ask.”) Some serious moments were not dodged, and he even took up the regrets question, with John talking about missing his sons but being able to watch them from Heaven. Pause. Then, in Ringo’s voice, sarcastically, “Thanks for bringing down the room, John.” In fact, some of the most entertaining moments came when he interrupts himself to create a discussion or argument among the Beatles, switching voices with quick speed. But when all was asked and answered, it’s maybe too relaxed, as he sips tea and chitchats. Rather than depend so largely on the luck of the draw with audiences, perhaps some questions should be set with interesting scripted answers before turning things over to the actual audience. Or something besides the Q and A format for a little while? A little goes a long way, even in a one-hour show. Then again, maybe you’ ll get an audience with very different, juicy, fascinating questions that inspire some juicier, and more fascinating answers, or it may be a hard day’s night.

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