LENNON WILL END IT’S BROADWAY RUN
AFTER ONLY SIX WEEKS: A LOOK AT WHY
By Victor Lana
Since John was my favorite Beatle, I was looking forward to the new Broadway musical Lennon despite reviews that ranged from tepid to nasty. I did approach the idea of getting $75 tickets with a bit of trepidation. Could the show be that bad? Let’s look at one critics thoughts about it:
This drippy version of his life, written and directed with equal clunkiness by Don Scardino and featuring a Muzak-alized assortment of Lennon’s non-”Beatles” songs, suggests that he was just a little lost boy looking for love in all the wrong places until he found Ms. Ono and discovered his inner adult.
-Ben Brantley, NYTIMES, 15 Aug. 2005
Okay, despite this negativity, I still wanted to go. John Lennon is such an important figure in music and the lore of New York (Ed Sullivan Theatre, Central Park, Shea Stadium, The Dakota, etc.), and any show celebrating his life, in my opinion, needed to be seen. Unfortunately, Lennon failed on so many levels that I have to say honestly that the critics got it right this time.
So, what was so wrong with Lennon? The answer goes deeper than it being just a bad show. The problem that was overwhelming, as Mr. Brantley noted, was that the show devoted around ten to fifteen minutes to the Beatles and the rest of the time to John’s post-Beatle life, specifically having to do with his relationship with Ms. Ono. That would, at least for Beatles fans like myself, be a prescription for disaster.
Ms. Ono and the late Linda McCartney have long been cited as the catalysts for the Beatle break-up. Perhaps their influence had something to do with the band’s demise, but it was more to do with four men going in different directions. John, Paul, George, and Ringo were like brothers who had grown up in the same house, shared the same experiences and lives, but it was time for them to spread their wings.
Ms. Ono especially is seen as what can be described as a divisive force, having wedged her way in between John and Paul and the rest. Unfortunately, she has been maligned like this for over thirty-five years. Still, she had an opportunity with this show (which she would have to support in order to get her permission to use the songs) to make an impression on Beatles fans and others with a knock-out tribute to John and his legacy, but she sadly did not. As one friend who went to see the show last week noted, “They should have called it Ono instead of Lennon.” Enough said.
The first mistake was to treat the Beatles part of John’s life so flippantly. The Beatles are still the band that shook the world, and for the storyline not to recognize this or to give time and respect to that period shows blatant disregard for the truth. While John was still influential and popular after the Beatles, nothing could compare to his success during his time with them. A few post-Beatles songs like “Imagine” are timeless classics, but many more of the songs he wrote with Paul are the ones with staying power.
The second mistake was to have John portrayed by nine actors. It is a strange choice, understandable in some ways, but also I think a stretching of the characterization too far. John was many things to many people, and the effort was made to have people of different races and genders play the part to illustrate this, but there was no way of grounding the performances. Of all the actors, only one of them (Will Chase) got close to projecting any kind of nuance or substance worthy of John Lennon. The show lacked a center and was all over the place, and part of the reason for this is due to this disastrous decision regarding casting.
The third mistake was director Scardino not being sure what kind of show it was going to be. Was it a concert? Was it a musical? Was it a play? One of the reasons for the success of a show like Beatlemania was that it didn’t pretend to be anything but what it was: four guys, looking and sounding like the Beatles, playing the songs and taking us for a magical mystery tour. Unfortunately, Lennon remains largely just a mystery.
The final mistake was timing. Since this was the first musical of the 2005-2006 Broadway season, it came along at a time when all focus would be on it and not on other premieres. It is never easy to be the leadoff batter, and Lennon didn’t even get a chance to reach first base, let alone steal second. While other shows like Wicked and The Lion King keep doing amazing business, the mixture of poor reviews and damaging word of mouth put Lennon off the playing field rather quickly.
John Lennon was an icon and a rock god, who oddly enough once said that The Beatles were bigger than Jesus. He was right more than he could have ever known. In the end Lennon is a sad failure because John’s whole story was not told more effectively and powerfully, for there is so much more to the life he lived and the affect his music had on the world. One can only hope that at some point in the future that a show will come along that will encompass John’s genius, his compassion, his intelligence, and wit. Hey, no one said it would be easy.
Copyright © Victor Lana 2005