Though the production is bare-bones (and “John,” “Paul,” “George,” and “Ringo” probably look most Beatle-like when seen from the Laguna Playhouse back row), there’s no denying that the multitalented stars of BritishMania sound so much like The Beatles as they sing and play their way through two hours of ‘60s British pop that if you’re anything like this reviewer, this nostalgic trip back in time will end up worth a drive down to Laguna Beach.

Britishmania SK 20110039

For those as close up as I was tonight, it will probably take a while longer to get used to a Paul who’s half a foot shorter than the real thing, a John and a Ringo who look little like the originals, and a George who (while a dead ringer for Mr. Harrison) could easily have fathered the other three, but once over the suspension-of-disbelief hurdle, there’s no denying the infectious joy of reliving the The Fab Four’s six years in four acts.

Act One takes us back to 1964 (and the start of The British Invasion) with hits like “She Loves You,” “I Wanna Hold Your Hand,” “Please Please Me,” “A Hard Day’s Night,” and “Can’t Buy Me Love,” appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, and concerts at Washington Coliseum and Carnegie Hall.

Act Two covers ’65 and ’66, years that saw The Beatles releasing Rubber Soul and Revolver, starring in Help, and appearing before a world-record crowd of 55,600 at New York’s Shea Stadium with songs like “The Night Before, “Help,” “Nowhere Man,” “Day Tripper,” and the lesser known gem “She Said She Said.”

Post-intermission brings Act Three, and Psychedelic ’67’s rainbow-hued Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart Club Band uniforms, handlebar staches, shaggier locks, granny glasses, and “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds,” “A Day In The Life,” and “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

BritishMania’s Fourth Act has Lennon, McCartney, Harrison, and Starr bringing the ’60s (and The Beatles) to an end with The White Album, Abbey Road, and Let It Be … and their last great hits: “Revolution,” “Come Together,” “Get Back,” “Let It Be,” and “Hey Jude.”

Vocally, it’s hard to imagine performers who sound more like John, Paul, and George than BritishMania owner-producer-manager Jon Ferris, Frank Mendonca III, and Jimmy Pou, the latter of whom has been standing in for George for the past 35 years, and all three play guitar and/or bass and/or keyboards like the seasoned pros they are. As for Rolo Sandoval, I’m no drum expert, but the diminutive percussionist would appear to be giving Ringo a definite run for his money.

Unlike the Broadway and touring hit Rain, which adds sensational design elements to its tribute band mix, BritishMania consists pretty much of its four Beatles stand-ins and some authentic Beatles-era band gear on an otherwise bare stage with none of the lighting pyrotechnics a higher-end show might offer. Costumes are, however, nostalgic treats and sound amplification is crisp and clear.

BritishMania may not be the next-best-thing to seeing The Beatles (more like the next-to-next-to-next best thing), but if you’re like me, you’ll likely find yourself singing along as the hits keep coming … and rising to your feet as “Hey Jude” brings the evening to a close with both you and the audience around you still wanting more.

Note: Song selections may vary from performance to performance.

The Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Road, Laguna Beach.

–Steven Stanley
August 13, 2013

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