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Lennon Will End It’s Broadway Run After Only Six Weeks: A Look At Why

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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

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • MT

    Yoko’s ego — that’s was the problem.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/VictorLana/ Victor Lana

    MT,

    I think you’re right about that, but it’s also something more. She’s touted a rather selective legacy, and this show fits it. Sadly, it is obvious to everyone except maybe her.

  • http://www.utopia2000.org Barry Stoller

    With her screeching bad singing and avantgarde reductionism, Ono is an easy target. Nevertheless, continuing to cast her as the Fabs’ breakup catalyst is simply erroneous. The primary reason The Beatles split up is ALLEN KLEIN and his divide-and-conquer tactics following McCartney’s refusal to ink a contract with the man. Just look into Klein’s history with Cameo-Parkway and the Rolling Stones to see the obvious template for the Fabs’ dissolution. Yoko is a joke; sober analysis should follow the money – and, in this tale, that leads directly to Klein.

  • http://musical-guru.blogspot.com Michael J. West

    Unfortunately, she has been maligned like this for over thirty-five years.

    I think this actually explains a lot about Yoko’s ego, MT and Victor. She’s been so lambasted that she’s overcompensating on her own: having been cast as the Devil in John Lennon’s life, Yoko’s gone the other extreme and cast herself as his Messiah.

    Why can’t we all just give up the whole thing and focus on Pattie Boyd? She was the hot Beatle wife.

  • http://www.diablog.us Dave Nalle

    And here I thought it was Lennon’s sanctimonious mediocrity which was the problem…

    Dave

  • http://www.morethings.com/log Al Barger

    No Dave, Yoko’s PR problem is more caused by dumb shit like this.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/VictorLana/ Victor Lana

    Thanks for great comments!

    The problem with Yoko is not new. The thing John liked about her was her oddity. I believe they first met in theatre after her show, which featured people from the audience coming up and cutting off pieces of her dress. I think this was also the infamous paper bag show too, that is she wore one over her head.

    Barry, you bring up Allen Klein and I know you’re right about that. In my post I wasn’t personally blaming Yoko, just mentioning the perception.

    Oh, and Michael, you’re right about Patti Boyd. Man, was she beautiful! But she left George for Clapton.

  • MT

    From what I’ve heard, John believed the Beatles had become passe in 1966. As times changed, and the hippie / psychedelic revolution set in, Ono seemed to be the answer in his pursuit of doing something more artistic and meaningful. However she has shown she is a poor executor of his legacy and this show seems to confirm it. John and Paul were great songwriters but John had an extra dimension — a conscience and a need to address the hypocrisy and lies of government and that is why he is particularly relevant to this day. For Dave Nalle to say that Lennon was sanctimonious and mediocre (see post # 5) is proof of Nalle’s abrasive and unconscious views. (“Nuff said about that fool). John’s death was a great loss and eventually the real story of Lennon will emerge. As for Ono, she has actually made some interesting music and is highly underestimated in that regard.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/VictorLana/ Victor Lana

    Exactly right, MT. What would be John’s reaction to W. and what’s happening these days? Let’s not forget that Nixon targeted him for deportation if he could find a reason.

    John was dangerous (in a good way) because his intelligence matched his talent, and as you rightly note he understood the world and the role of leaders in keeping the status quo (which John hated).

    Remember that billboard in Times Square John paid for? “War is over if you want it; give peace a chance.” Well, that was Vietnam but his message is just as timely today.

    “Nothing to kill or die for…”

  • http://www.thebmrant.com Matt

    sanctimonious mediocrity? what does one have to do with the other? It seems that you’re putting your political differences with Lennon in the middle of a discussion about his music.

    Calling Lennon’s contributions to rock mediocre is the easiest way to be written off as musically illiterate.

  • http://www.scoopstories.typepad.com Scott Butki

    Saying Lennon was mediocre and saying his music contribution is mediocre are not the same thing.
    I hope Nalle comes back to clarify.

  • MT

    I don’t think one can be mediocre and write the songs Lennon wrote. It takes talent, insight, and intelligence to do what he did in his lifetime.

  • http://journals.aol.com/vicl04/VictorLana/ Victor Lana

    Right again, MT. Lennon will stand with the top greats in musical history, as a Beatle and as an individual. You can say his name in the same breath as Beethoven, Bernstein, Sinatra, Elvis, Coltrane, or Hendrix without any question.

  • http://www.djradiohead.com DJRadiohead

    Biopics and the like are a tough tightrope to walk. How do you condense a person’s life into 2 hours? Especially someone like John Lennon. Lennon was a first rate musician who dabbled in literature and visual arts. He was an activist. He was a father and a husband. He did some of those things better than others. A 2 hour film or 2 hour Broadway show can never hope to capture all of that. So then you are stuck trying what to include and what to leave out.