The Times West Virginian

March 13, 2014

‘Rain — A Tribute to Beatles’ set Monday

By Debra Minor Wilson
Times West Virginian

FAIRMONT — Who hasn’t dreamed of seeing The Beatles in concert?

Tragically, that’s impossible, but the next best thing is coming to Morgantown at 7:30 p.m. Monday, March 17, at the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre in West Virginia University’s Creative Arts Center.

Just in time to celebrate the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ debut on “The Ed Sullivan Show” on Feb. 9, 1964, comes “Rain — A Tribute to The Beatles.”

This live multimedia spectacular takes audience members on a note-for-note musical journey through the life and times of the world’s most celebrated rock band.

“Rain” is acknowledged to be the first, longest-running and most-successful Beatles tribute show in the world, predating the popular Broadway show “Beatlemania” by several years.

It all started with a group of musicians, a band named “Reign” and a love of Beatles music.

“Our goal was to write and record our own music, and to hopefully become a hit band doing our own songs,” said Mark Lewis, manager, original keyboardist and founding member. “We happened to be huge Beatles fans, and because we needed to work and didn’t want to play top 40 hits, we decided to put together a few sets of music that we really enjoyed playing.

“But rather than just including Beatles songs in the set, we decided to separate it and do some exclusively Beatles ‘sets,’” he said, such as early Beatles, Sgt. Pepper and Abbey Road.

A local Los Angeles club owner agreed to let them play a Beatles night. They invited some friends just to make sure they had an audience.

No worries.

The club was packed and Reign returned, this time marketed as Rain, a Beatles tribute band.

“It was assumed that the name was taken from the Beatles song,” Lewis said. “It was so common to see our name misspelled in ads and on marquees as ‘Rain’ instead of ‘Reign’ that we eventually just gave in and left it as ‘Rain.’”

From the beginning, he knew Rain was “something very unique. It brought a lot of joy to a lot of people.”

But he still doubted where it would go.

A big break came when Dick Clark hired the band to record the music for the 1979 made-for-TV movie “Birth of The Beatles.” Then the act started packing “major Broadway-type theaters,” he said. And all the hard work and dedication — and love for The Beatles —  began to pay off.

“Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles on Broadway” ran for 300 shows at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre in New York City from October 2010 to July 2011. In addition to the Broadway engagement, “Rain” has been a hugely successful national tour for years.

Just loving The Beatles and their music isn’t enough, Lewis said.

“First and foremost, you have to find great musicians,” he explained. “They have to play great and have the ability (in the case of John Lennon and Paul McCartney) to play multiple instruments, such as bass, guitar and piano, and to play these instruments at a very high level of perfection.

“They have to have great ears to figure out the parts correctly, and they have to be great singers who can sound like the voices of The Beatles rather than just sounding good or unique. This in itself is a very specialized talent. They have to have a great ability to harmonize and blend well with other singers. And they have to look somewhat like the characters they portray.”

In other words, a 6-foot-tall, blond Ringo just won’t cut it.

“They have to have the confidence to front a band, and with an English accent,” Lewis continued.

This can be about as hard as figuring out the opening chord to “A Hard Day’s Night.”

“It’s an extremely difficult job for a musician,” Lewis said, “and to find people that can do this at the level of the guys in ‘Rain’ was extremely demanding. If you don’t do it to perfection, people will not only walk out on you, they will be angry at you. You will be laughed at.

“You don’t just want a great bass player, and you don’t just want a great bass player that can sing. You want a great bass player who can sing and sound like Paul McCartney, and play piano, and have his persona.”

The same goes for John, George and Ringo. Remember, the audience is comprised of people for whom knowing every word, every nuance, every pause in every Beatles song is as natural as breathing.

“This was not easy,” Lewis said.

Whether they saw The Beatles on television that unforgettable Sunday night in February 1964, or if they just turned on to the Fabs through the remastered CDs or “The Beatles: Rock Band,” the audience is there for one reason: to hear The Beatles.

“We get parents who love to bring their kids,” Lewis said. “I think they take a certain pride in turning their children on to The Beatles. They want their kids to ‘get’ The Beatles. And the kids do. They leave our show wanting to listen to more Beatles records, watch Beatles movies, play Beatles ‘Rock Band,’ etc.”

Rain keeps changing and improving. They’ve become better musicians, and technology has helped them become “better Beatles.” Video, lighting, props and costumes all bring The Beatles to life — from the early years to Sgt. Pepper to Abbey Road.

The show has entirely brand new LED, high-definition screens that make up the set. The video content has been streamlined to fit the new screens and a custom scrim has been added to the show. New songs have been added in addition to fan favorites.

“We’re not just a concert. We’re more of an event,” Lewis said.

A typical performance may start out like a Broadway show but ends like a rock concert “with people standing, singing and swaying with the music,” he said.

“The Beatles were in a class by themselves. They changed the world,” Lewis said. “I don’t really know if I chose The Beatles or just followed my passion. When Rain started in the mid-’70s, I was just a musician who was playing music I loved playing. It was fun. I really didn’t know where it was going.

“If you’re doing something that you love doing, and you’re fortunate enough to be able to make a living at it, and you happen to be good at it, what would be the reason to stop? Although I’ve been doing this for decades, it seems as if just yesterday I was playing in bars in L.A., and then the next thing I know we’re starring on Broadway.

“The appeal of Rain is the appeal of, in my opinion, the greatest music ever written and recorded, the greatest band in history: The Beatles,” he continued. “I want to say thank you to John, Paul, George and Ringo for giving the world some of the greatest music ever written and recorded, for the joy that this music has brought to all of us, and for the wonderful career and life that it has personally brought to myself, my family and the other members of Rain.

“Our goal has always been to present this music in a live environment to audiences throughout the world, and most importantly, to maintain the integrity of The Beatles and their music. After all, it is their music. We are just a few very fortunate guys that get to perform this music night after night. What’s better than that?”

Longtime band members Joey “Paul” Curatolo (vocals, bass, guitar, piano), Joe “George” Bithorn (vocals, lead guitar, guitar synthesizer), Ralph “Ringo” Castelli (vocals, drums, percussion) and Steve “John” Landes (vocals, guitar, piano, harmonica) all performed in the hit Broadway and touring productions of “Beatlemania.”

But for them, and Rain founding member Mark Lewis, The Beatles’ music “is first and foremost.”

Email Debra Minor Wilson at dwilson@timeswv.com.