Paul McCartney may have written ”The Long and Winding Road,” but it could well be the title of the musical about his former partner. On Aug. 4, Lennon — based on the late singer-songwriter’s life and featuring 28 of his songs — will finally debut on Broadway after nearly derailing in previews.
Whether the $7 million production can become a hit hinges on a couple of challenging conceits: Rather than a simple Mamma Mia!-style sing-along, the book uses the singer’s own words (taken from interviews) plus flashy interpretations of the Lennon songbook to drive the musical forward. And instead of hiring a single actor to portray Lennon, all nine members of the cast (some male, some female; some black, some white) play him.
It was this provocative Lennon-as-Everyman take that sold Yoko Ono on the production and its director, Don Scardino. Ono, who consulted on the show, had received many requests for a Lennon musical, but Scardino got that John ”was advocating the fact that we are all one.”
Beatlemaniacs who advocate for Paul or Ringo might not be so enthused. Though Lennon covers his entire life, there are only three Fab Four tunes in the show. The bulk of the music is taken from Lennon’s solo career (including two unreleased songs). That, and the show’s decidedly pro-Yoko viewpoint (which Ono denies), drew barbs from critics when the show previewed in San Francisco. Indeed, the mostly bad reviews forced a major overhaul before the move to Broadway: ”About 40 percent of the show was changed” to streamline and boost the Beatles quotient, says producer Allan McKeown.
Attempting to make a musical about so iconic a figure is both a blessing and a curse. The hits are built in. But, as Jack Viertel, creative director of Broadway’s Jujamcyn Theaters, points out: ”Having Lennon’s songs doesn’t guarantee you success. And that score of favorite songs makes it harder in some respects.”
Ono is confident Lennon fans will appreciate the results — even if the man himself might not have: ”John and I went to a couple of musicals towards the end of the ’60s. We just didn’t enjoy them.”