–photo by Matt Christine Photography
The Fab Four are ready to welcome Philadelphians back to the Merriam Theater this month! RAIN – A TRIBUTE TO THE BEATLES will be the first Broadway Philadelphia show to perform in this theatre since stages went dark in March 2020. In fact, the RAIN cast members were already in Philly and getting ready to perform this show when they got the call to head home. Lansdale native Steve Landes aka “John” has been a part of this ultimate Beatles tribute since 2018 and as he and his mates get back into the swing of things, he took some time to talk to me about the upcoming performance- which celebrates the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road, his experiences on tour and what he did during quarantine.
Q: When we spoke in 2018, prior to RAIN’S tribute to Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, you mentioned buying a mint condition Beatles coloring book to replace one you had previously colored in! Have you purchased any other interesting memorabilia since then?
A: I bought a couple of the Beatles Revell model kits that were made in 1960s. They’re figural kits that, when assembled, are the 1963-era Beatles with their instruments, in something close to 1/8 scale, I think. I already had George and Ringo, but I’ve been waiting to find John and Paul in super mint condition. I can’t bring myself to ruin them by assembling the actual original kits, so instead I’m making latex molds of each piece, so that I can make resin copies and then assemble and paint them. Wow, do I sound like a dork now!
Q: You joined RAIN in 1998. What have been some highlights of this 20+ year career?
A: Wow, so many. I think the obvious is [performing on] Broadway. Getting to that level, and being accepted the way we were by the Broadway community, felt especially nice.
I always love when we play venues that the Beatles actually played, like the Empire Theater in Liverpool, or the Olympia Theater in Paris. When we played the West End in London (which is the UK’s Broadway equivalent) we were at the London Palladium, which is not only one of the most prestigious venues in England, but it’s also where the Beatles played, and from their performances there that the UK media coined the term ‘Beatlemania’. So, hallowed ground indeed.
Q: Your tour celebrating the 50th anniversary of Abbey Road finally started again this month! What can audiences expect from this performance?
A: Before we did this Abbey Road version of our show, we did a celebration of Sgt. Pepper. We did the whole album as a major part of our show’s second act, from beginning to end. And it really went over with audiences. So much so, that we’re currently doing a slightly abridged ‘best of’ Pepper tribute, followed by a new ‘best of Abbey Road – all of the fan favorites from that album, including of course the big Side 2 medley. But of course, we’ve still got the whole rest of our show, which includes a taste of all of the eras from the Beatles’ career.
Q: You had just arrived in Philadelphia for your March 13th 2020 gig when you got the cancelation news. What went through your head? What happened next?
Al Just like the rest of the world, we had no idea what was happening, why, and how to deal with it. On that day our plan was just to cancel the first leg of our tour (which I think was about two months), go home, and wait and see. Needless to say, we wound up staying home for longer than two months.
Q: You are from nearby Lansdale. Is this where you spent your lockdown? How did you keep busy?
A: I am from Lansdale, and I love my hometown! But I live in California now, and that’s where I spent my year-and-a-half lockdown. I tried to spend as much time as possible playing and singing, some online for our fans. Communicating with the ‘outside world’ was crucial for everyone of course, but I felt like it was our duty to at least try to check in occasionally with our fans, entertain them somehow, let them know that we’re okay, they’re okay, and that we’re all gonna get through this okay.
Q: How does it feel to get back on the road? Did you need a refresher from any of the songs off the album before touring kicked up again?
A: It feels so good to get back on the road – I’ve missed it! I’ve missed every element of it; the band, the road, traveling to a new town every day, the music, and of course the fans. There’s a sense of community in live music, live theater that I think we were all craving this last year and a half, performers and audiences.
I always try to keep refreshed on the songs. When you’re playing them every night, it can be easy to add your own inflections or musical viewpoint to a song here and there, so it’s important to keep going back to the source material often and return to the exact correct parts and to what they’re playing on the original recordings. And while in lockdown I tried to check in from time on the records and keep up. But then of course yes, a couple months before tour, it was time to refresh the memory, and get a feel for playing these songs again and getting back into character.
Q: I spoke with Paul Curatolo (Paul McCartney in the show) prior to the canceled show last March. He said he couldn’t pick a favorite Abbey Road song! How about you?
A: Boy that’s so not fair, ‘cause all of these songs are so great. There’s not a Beatles songs I don’t love! And when it’s your job to perform them as authentically as possible, I learn each song and get to know them in a way that’s beyond just the typical listener. It’s almost like, through learning the songs to this degree, I gain a little bit of insight into how and why they played that part, or chose that lyric, etc. I gain more and more respect for them as artists every day.
But if pressed, I always go back to the iconic songs and recordings, and as far as later-era John Beatles songs go, I mean, wow, you can’t get more iconic than “Come Together”.
Q: And…John is still your favorite Beatle, right?!
A: Always. I mean, I love all of the Beatles, who they were/are, and what they gave to the world with their music. But beyond that, I just love that John always seemed to put himself out there in a way that was so honest. So open. Sometimes painfully so. He could be a complicated guy, but underneath it all he had a gentle soul.
Go back in time with the Beatles on 10/29, 10/30 and 10/31. Tickets are available here.
Proof of vaccination is required for all guests 12 and over. To read the Kimmel Cultural Campus safety policy, click here.