Starring Nick Blood, Isabella Calthorpe, Andrew Knott, Daniel Healey. Written by Iain Softley, Stephen Jeffreys. Music supervision by Paul Stacey. Directed by David Leveaux. Royal Alexandra Theatre, to Sept. 2.
Long before John met Yoko, the course of The Beatles was irrevocably changed by true love: the love between the band’s original bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, and German photographer Astrid Kirchherr, and the love between Sutcliffe and his best friend, John Lennon. These stories are explored in Backbeat, the stage adaptation of the 1994 film of the same name. Set mostly in the dingy basement nightclubs of seedy Hamburg in the early 1960s, this musical gives audiences a mournful look at The Beatles that might have been.
While it’s not entirely historically accurate (Beatle purists be warned), Backbeat’s portraits of Sutcliffe’s (Nick Blood) tortured artist and Lennon’s (Andrew Knott) loose tongue and quick temper point to the edgier side of The Beatles’ brand of rock ‘n’ roll, while Paul McCartney (Daniel Healey) writes songs about “normal blokes” who love girls “a bit.” And while the love triangle between Sutcliffe, Lennon, and Kirchherr (Isabella Calthorpe) comes across as alternately overwrought, clichéd, and cold, it nevertheless works to raise worthwhile discussions of artistic integrity, ambition, romance, and loyalty.
Right from the deafening drum beat that kicks off the show, the music is the main attraction here. Unfortunately, that means supporting characters are skimmed over rather quickly. Pete Best’s unceremonious firing comes and goes without much impact, and we never really know George as anything other than the young newb. More development in these areas would keep Backbeat from feeling more like a glorified tribute show than a fully developed musical, a quality that isn’t helped by an over-the-top curtain call (watch out for flying guitar picks).