Monday, August 15, 2005

John Lennon Musical Opens: Aieeeee Caramba

Here's the review from the New York Times:

In the immortal words of Yoko Ono, "Aieeeee!" A fierce primal scream - of the kind Ms. Ono is famous for as a performance and recording artist - is surely the healthiest response to the agony of "Lennon," the jerry-built musical shrine that opened last night at the Broadhurst Theater.

...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. When his adoring fans and a hitherto tame press turned on him in the late-1960's, Lennon told a journalist that his public had never seen him clearly to begin with, that even when he was a schoolboy, those who actually knew him never "thought of me as cuddly."

Yet cuddly is how Lennon (who is portrayed by five actors) emerges here, like a pocket-size elf doll who delivers encouraging mantras of self-help and good will when you scratch his tummy. "We're all one," "Love is the answer," "Be real" - these and other Lennonisms are projected in repeated succession on a screen before the show begins. Little that follows goes beyond such fortune-cookie wisdom.

"Lennon" is the latest in the bland crop of shows known as jukebox musicals that have been spreading over Broadway like kudzu, from the mega-hit "Mamma Mia!" (the Abba musical) to the super-flop "Good Vibrations" (Beach Boys). "Lennon" fits the jukebox mold, with its regulation lineup of perky, puppyish performers and brimming quota of recognizable songs, delivered with lots of volume and little dancing.

...Mr. Scardino and Ms. Ono (whose name appears in large type in the credits, where she is accorded "special thanks") have said that using five actors to portray Lennon reflects the idea that the man meant different things to different people. Yet instead of making Lennon seem multifaceted and multiform, this device turns him into a one-size-fits-all alter ego to the world.

The subtext, to borrow from a Dr. Pepper commercial of years ago, is something like "I'm a Lennon/ You're a Lennon/ He's a Lennon/ She's a Lennon/ Wouldn't you like to be a Lennon too?"

...Chart-toppers like "Give Peace a Chance" and "Instant Karma" are accorded the full, painful love-in treatment à la "Hair." (Daisies are distributed during "Give Peace a Chance.") But while the songs' musical hooks may still dig into your memory, the image of the man who wrote them is likely to feel fuzzier after the show than it did before.

At the end, a clip from Mr. Lennon and Ms. Ono's video of his song "Imagine" is shown. And there before you is the real John Lennon - lean-faced, thin-lipped, cryptic, shyly exhibitionist. It says everything about the vapid "Lennon" that your instinctive response to this complex apparition is, "Who is that man anyway, and what is he doing here?"
I can't believe I invested a million bucks in this thing. I told them they should have cast Leo Sayer as Lennon, but they just wouldn't listen.

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