I liked the Iain Softley film, Backbeat, that came out in the 1990's so I was curious about the stage show version. More curious when I learned David Leveaux would be directing. The cast was largely unknown to me, but there was a History Boy in it which these days feels like the imprimatur of quality--something like the Good Housekeeping seal of approval.
I should say for the record that I am apparently collecting History Boy performances without actually seeing The History Boys. I saw Dominic Cooper and Russell Tovey in His Dark Materials. I saw James Corden in One Man Two Guvnors. And Andrew Knott was in Backbeat.
I should be up front about saying I have nothing for or against the Beatles. I worked on the re-release of Hard Day's Night and got to work a little with the original producer Walter Shenson who was a doll (a 103 year old doll). I remember seeing that movie and thinking about the "young" Beatles" when it seemed all light and fun. In some ways that is a nice way to approach Backbeat as well. It is the story of how the band came together, who ended up in and who ended up out, and the "love" triangle between John Lennon, Stu Sutcliffe, and Stu's girlfriend Astrid. It was about the boys who became the Beatles and not about the Beatles, if that makes sense. And that unto itself is a really fascinating and exciting world to explore. Before they were icons, who were these boys. Great hook.
The visual look of the show was intriguing. A lot of projections were used to convey Stu's paintings, Astrid's photography etc...I liked this and I think it helped develop some of the creative background to the characters.
The main performers were all terrific (well I was not a huge fan of Ruta Gedmintas as Astrid but it's hard role to make likable and the ensemble was very caricaturish). BUT...and this is a big BUT...the story just was not there. It felt like it was a rough outline of a story thinly strung together with a bunch of rock and roll musical numbers. The musical numbers started to feel repetitive and they did not move the story along. In fact, I wished they'd stop playing for a moment so the characters could talk. Later as the band starts to become the Beatles the songs change and that is important but it comes a little late in the game.
It's too bad because there is so much potential and so much talent involved in this show. And it's full of hot young guys! There is no reason I should be the only person under the age of 60 in the audience. This should be marketed both to Beatles fans and girls. Do they not know they have a cast of adorable guys who sometimes take their shirts and pants off. Yes ladies, naked butts. You are welcome.
Andrew Knott was fantastic as John Lennon. He's charismatic, funny, and driven.
Nick Blood plays Stu Sutcliffe. He's gorgeous (see below) but is given very little to do.
He just stands around and smokes cigarettes (more cigarettes smoked in this show than in any other show I have ever seen). I mean he looks great doing it but it's like they replaced character development with cigarettes. Give the poor boy something to say or do. I mean, thank you for taking his shirt off a bunch, but you could also give him some dialogue sometimes. It would be nice to know what he is thinking between cigarettes.
There is so much that Backbeat could be but it is just not there yet. I would love the producers to call me to discuss this. Because I think they've got a great start but it needs work...and more nudity. #kidding #wellsortof #kidding