Since 1997, Gilbert Bonilla (John Lennon), Frank Mendonca (Paul McCartney), Louie Renteria (Ringo Starr) and Omar Oliveras (George Harrison) have been donning mop-top wigs and shiny, jewel-toned jackets with epaulets, and singing about getting by with a little help from their friends, working it on out with a twist and shout, and a girl who loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah. From Baltimore to Bora Bora, the Los Angeles-based foursome, Hard Day's Night, helps people burn off all-you-can-eat buffet pounds by playing regular gigs on Royal Caribbean cruises.
When a Los Angeles community theater needed fund-raising help, Hard Day's Night was happy to jump on board. The family friendly Ticket to Ride was born.
The show premiered to sold-out audiences in L.A. and a number of nights were added to keep up with demand. The Los Angeles Times wrote, "The show delivers where it counts, which is to say, the hits keep coming," and the Orange Country Register suggested, "If you see only one tribute show, see this one ... smart and loads of fun." Boise audiences will be only the second to see Ticket to Ride when it comes to the Egyptian Theatre, August 7-9.
When the group agreed to hold the fundraiser for the community theater, they didn't want to just play another gig. They wanted to put on a show. So they asked producer Andy Nagle to take their already long-running tribute show and mix it with a little theater, add some drama and give the performance a storyline. Nagle wrote some scenes, placing the Beatles in various locales throughout their musical career. But the story wasn't quite where the band or Nagle wanted it to be.
"Somewhere along the line, we realized our script wasn't good enough," Nagle said. "We found this playwright named P.M. Howard. He had been the original George in Beatlemania [on Broadway]. He had been thinking about this story for 30 years. His story and our story were similar, and he asked if he could write a scene. We decided he writes better than we do."
Howard got the green light to rewrite the script, and he created a musical retelling of the Beatles' history through the eyes of their manager Brian Epstein. Ticket to Ride portrays pivotal times in the Beatles' history, including Epstein's first glimpse of the boys playing at the Liverpool, England, Cavern Club in jeans and black leather jackets before Epstein convinces them that matching suits and synchronized bows at the end of a performance will be good for their image. It follows them through their appearance on Ed Sullivan and their concert in Shea Stadium as well.
Nagle and company put an ad for a director on Craigslist, and after receiving 25 applications--"We were surprised there would be that much interest, especially since we weren't paying very much"--they hired 20-year-old Danielle Palmer, whose family lives in Idaho. Some Boise-based performers will also take part in the show, including Katie Ponozzo, Lesley Thompson, Lisa Whitwell and Jennifer Waters, who were cast as dancers and ensemble actors. Ponozzo will also serve as choreographer for the Boise shows. But the Beatles weren't necessarily known for their dance moves, so why hire a choreographer at all?
It wasn't done to add an air of authenticity to any Beatles stage moves. Even if synchronized dancing had been a huge part of the Beatles' careers, Bonilla, Mendonca, Renteria and Oliveras had been playing them for years; they would have any dance steps down. They hired a choreographer to deal with the drugs.
"We were perplexed at how we could tell a story of the Beatles and not address the drug issue," Nagle said. So, the show doesn't overtly mention drugs but does allude to what was a big part of Beatles history by utilizing a group of dancers they refer to as the Hallucinations, who interpret the song "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds" during the show.
"It's subtle enough that kids won't understand what's going on, but by the nature of the song and the dance, parents understand we are acknowledging the Beatles' drug history," Nagle said. "To be honest, in our first script, we had the band smoking a joint. The band said, 'We are not going to do that. We have children that will be at the show.' So, we kind of backed into the family friendly thing."
They strove to keep the story upbeat, but it's not all psychedelic rainbows and yellow submarines. It glosses over the LSD-fueled years, but a story told from Epstein's point of view would be terribly remiss if his sudden death due to a drug overdose were not told. And ignoring the band's breakup would be ludicrous.
"Epstein does die during the show, and we do address the ugliness that occurred with that, with Yoko [Ono] coming in and the infighting and the breaking up," Nagle said.
The show ends where the Beatles technically did as well, their final public performance as a group in 1969 on the rooftop of their Apple Records offices in Savile Row.
In bringing their show to Boise, Hard Day's Night offers Boise audiences a ticket to ride the Beatles' magical mystery tour.