Broadway is back, Philly.
And at the Merriam Theater at the Kimmel Cultural Campus this weekend, audiences will be able to hear the sounds and see the sights of one of the most influential bands in history—The Beatles. Playing the iconic role of John Lennon is Steve Landes, a Lansdale native who grew up a Beatles fan himself thanks to his parents. When the time came to venture into the world of the Fab Four, Landes jumped at the opportunity and has been with ‘Rain-A Tribute to the Beatles’ for over two decades.
With the Philly leg of their tour kicking off on Oct. 29—and it’s especially significant being the 50th anniversary of ‘Abbey Road’ — Landes sat down with Metro to discuss what audiences can expect.
How did you get started with ‘Rain’ in the first place?
In between the time of age 11-12 to 17, I was playing with local bands around the Lansdale, Philly area just learning how to be a musician. Then I had the opportunity to audition for the ‘Beatlemania’ show that was on Broadway, it was on its last legs at that time. But I got in and did a couple of tours with them [and] that introduced me to the Beatles tribute world including the guys from ‘Rain’, so I kind of knew them for years and years. Then in ’98, when they were looking for a new John Lennon, I was one of the guys they gave a phone call to and we played a couple of gigs with other guys that do what I do. But, for whatever reason, they and I clicked so I’ve been in the band ever since, for over half my life now.
If someone hasn’t been to a ‘Rain’ show, what would you tell them to expect?
I always tell them its as if you could get the Beatles to play out their whole career in two and a half hours. That’s what we do. We dress like them, we act like them, we use the British accents, we play all the right, authentic instruments and we play all the best songs from their career in chronological order and you see their story play out. In fact, we even have multi-media as part of the show. We have a big, huge state of the art LED screens that surround the band behind us and on the side of us and depending on what we put up there, [you see] living back drops that make us look like we’re there at some of the pivotal moments of the Beatles career. It’ll look like you’re there at the ‘Ed Sullivan Show’, it’ll look like you’re there at their big Shea Stadium concert…it’ll look like the ‘Sgt. Pepper’ or the ‘Abbey Road’ album covers come to life, so in that sense we really take audiences to these places in the Beatles story.
Are there any songs that stand out to you from the show?
Especially at matinees, all the people who grew up during the Beatles times when they were kids or teenagers are now bringing their kids, and those kids are old enough to be bringing their kids—so you see three generations of audience members [there]…by the end of the night a song like the positive message of take a sad song and make it better with ‘Hey Jude,’ they’re up on their feet, they’re dancing along and singing the lyrics. They’ve got their ams up swaying back and forth, some people will be flashing the light on their cell phones swaying them back and forth, and it really is just this audience interactive celebration of the Beatles music and what the message of peace and love means to people. So, yeah a song like ‘Hey Jude’ where they can do that or a song like ‘Twist and Shout’ where they’re up and twisting and dancing with it—those moments are my favorite moments in the show.
The show was supposed to come to Philly in March 2020 but of course, that didn’t happen. What was that experience like for you?
Just like with everybody else, when COVID hit we had no idea what was going on. We tried to look at it positively, we had a very long tour set up and we had just gotten into it in March of 2020. When we got to Philly, I had all my family coming to see the show—so it was very jarring for them to see okay, well the show is canceled and we’re going to go ahead and cancel this whole leg of the tour. [We said] go home and be safe for three weeks and then we’ll come back and finish the tour by then…Well, you know we went home that day and we didn’t get back on the road for another year and a half.
How does it feel for you to finally bring the show back to your hometown?
Obviously, COVID was a very serious thing—many, many people died. But outside of all that, I really feel like what live theater and music is all about is bringing people together. It’s celebrating life and why we all love music so much. After this year and a half where so much of it was spent in lockdown all by ourselves in houses, I really see this as a big light at the end of the tunnel where we can finally, in a safe way with vaccinations and masks, can get back in a theater and sit down and watch a show and participate. It really feels like life goes on and life can continue.
Catch ‘Rain-A Tribute to the Beatles’ at the Merriam Theater Oct. 29-31. Tickets are available at kimmelculturalcampus.org