NoHo Arts Center, North Hollywood
Tribute shows and jukebox musicals are dodgy affairs. Undoubtedly all such productions trade on the source material, or the fan’s recollection thereof. It is likely that The Beatles have spawned the largest share of tribute bands.
Along comes “Just Imagine” – a small show with grand ambitions, as stated in its tagline ‘John Lennon performs one last show and you are there.’ Fortunately and against the odds, the show does not disappoint.
Tim Piper plays Lennon with aplomb. The lights dim on a stage manned by four musicians, and the spotlight finds a somewhat perplexed Piper/Lennon striding up to the instruments. He looks quizzically at the musicians, shrugs and rips through a few Lennon gems.
The musicianship is remarkable, led by bassist and musical director Greg Piper. But before one becomes worried that this will merely be a well-honed tribute band performance, Lennon begins to tell his story. First in spoken words, and most cleverly via song choices. He describes his life story, starting with the early blitzkrieg air raids in Liverpool through his troubled childhood with missing parents. The songs are not played out chronologically; rather they are cleverly intertwined with Lennon’s oral autobiography.
Don Butler provides some amazing guitar work, and Don Poncher’s drumming is completely solid. Morley Bartnoff ably handles keyboards, adding lush fills on many of the complex arrangements such as “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
Many deep catalogue songs are given an airing; it is great to hear live renditions of “Dear Prudence” and “Glass Onion.” Two times during the show a medley serves to capture the era: Beatlemania and post-house husbandry.
A very clever sequence is when Lennon describes his songwriting partnership with McCartney, sketching out who wrote what. Indeed, the central conceit of the show is allowing Lennon to address myths head on. Describing the importance of Yoko, the head-spinning heights the Beatles reached and the calm he found in raising his second son are told with conviction.
The show has already been extended, but do not miss your chance for a splendid time. Guaranteed.
For more information, visit www.thenohoartscenter.com