Theatre Review: BACKBEAT
The musical about the birth of The Beatles is a crowd-pleaser.
Backbeat is not your average cookie-cutter musical. It’s bold, loud and gritty. And honestly, that’s the way it should be: the award-winning play tells the story of The Beatles before they became The Beatles. That means no stadium shows, millions of fans or enviable record deals.
The play -- on stage right now at Toronto’s Royal Alexandra Theatre -- follows The Beatles in the early 1960s as they make their way out of Liverpool and into Hamburg’s red light district in an attempt to make it big. But the band quickly realizes that it’s not easy to make a splash, let alone make a decent living as performers.
If you’re not a die-hard Beatles fan, you may be in for a surprise. The English rock band featured four members when it exploded on an international level. However, The Beatles actually started off with five members and Backbeat focuses on Stuart Sutcliffe -- the original bassist of the band who’s often refereed to as the “fifth Beatle.”
Although Paul McCartney and George Harrison are depicted in Backbeat, the show focuses on the relationship between Stuart (played by Nick Blood), his best friend John Lennon (Andrew Knott) and Stuart’s love interest, photographer Astrid Kirchherr (Isabella Calthorpe).
The casting of the play is just brilliant. The actors do such an amazing job at playing The Beatles; aside from looking the part, they’ve mastered everything from mannerisms to the way each Beatle speaks and sings. That being said, Knott definitely stands out, exuding charisma and stage presence as Beatles vocalist John Lennon. The fact that this production comes directly from London and that the lead actors are British adds that extra touch of authenticity to the play.
The set is dark and gritty to mimic a seedy district in Hamburg circa 1960s. However, the play is often times up-beat and there are a handful of laugh-out-loud moments. Backbeat isn’t a musical a la Jersey Boys or We Will Rock You -- the characters don’t just break into song and dance out of nowhere. Every time The Beatles are playing it’s either because they’re rehearsing or performing at a club. Therefore, if you didn’t enjoy the structure of musicals such as Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You, you’ll probably love this one.
It’s a no brainer that the soundtrack is fantastic (we’re talking about The Beatles after all). Some of the songs you’ll hear include “Johnny B Goode,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Love Me Do” and the crowd-pleaser “Twist and Shout.” Backbeat isn’t just for Beatles fans. It’s for anyone who loves rock and roll and a good time at the theatre.
Visit www.mirvish.com for tickets and more information.