It's the British invastion part two in Toronto, as Backbeat the Musical invades our city and makes a home for itself in the gorgeous Royal Alexandra Theatre. The show is direct from London's West End, and chronicles the very early days of The Beatles. The show is touted as a 'play with music' and takes a close look at the intricate and often tumultuous relationship that existed between original bassist Stuart Sutcliffe, John Lennon and Astrid Kirchherr (who in many ways, was the 'original' Yoko Ono).
BWW had the chance to chat with direct David Leveaux, who opened up to us about the challenges associated with tackling such popular and well known music and material, as well as why he feels the show is more a 'play with music' and definitely not a 'jukebox musical'. While the show promises to both thrill and inspire, in the end, David says that it's a story about courage. If you've ever felt that drive to live the most creative and passionate life possible - Backbeat is a show for you:
Welcome to Toronto! We’re thrilled to have Backbeat here! Is it your first time in the city?
It is, and it’s a beautiful city. Hard to believe I’ve never been here before, I really like it. I’ve been here for two weeks, I came out with the company and I’m staying through the opening. I’ve been mostly just getting the show up and running but I’ve had the chance to go on long walks and explore the city and the waterfront, and I love it.
How about your new home at The Royal Alex? It’s a beautiful theatre isn’t it?
It’s really a beautifully constructed theatre and I’m glad it was rescued from demolition and that they’ve taken it back to its original beauty. The thing about that theatre is that it is so rare to have a theatre with dual balconies where no matter where you are, you’ve still got a very good relationship with the stage. It works really well for our show. It has all the old fashioned virtues of being acoustically sharp and very well focused because it comes from a time where people were performing things acoustically. And it’s intimate even though it’s a large house – that is some conjuring trick of the original architect!
First and foremost, we’ve heard Backbeat described as more of a ‘play with music’ than an actual musical. Do you agree with this statement?
I think I fundamentally do. It’s a drama that is essentially told through the music that these kids played. What I mean by that is that the music is not in the show as an add-on to a play. Rather, a lot of the drama that these kids were going through comes across through the music. The intensity of this central love story between Stuart Sutcliffe, John Lennon and Astrid Kirchherr, and the consequences of all the turbulence between them makes its appearance most intensely when you look at the on-stage relationships of each member of the band. Their life experience is actually channeled into the way they’re playing on stage and the music becomes a drama in and of itself.
If Backbeat is more of a ‘play with music’ does that mean there will be less Beatles numbers than one might expect?
It’s interesting because this period is one where they were doing a lot of brilliant covers and it’s not until the latter stages of the show that you really become aware of certain songs that are actually Beatles songs. As we get towards the end you start to hear the music that you might more closely associate with the early Beatles. When they play the finale of the show there are a number of popular Beatles hits – so I don’t think anyone will be disappointed.
It’s a show that is about the process by which this band became a great rock and roll band. And the audience gets to see that moment where they become the Beatles as we know them today. Along the way there are plenty of musical ‘pointers’ that give hints as to what the band is going to become. It’s not an evening thick with Beatles songs per se, but it is an evening full of rock and roll. Simply put, our show shows the emergence of the song-writing duo of Lennon and McCartney and stops at the very moment the band gets global recognition.