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Meet the Not-Beatles: The Fab Faux of Rain

By Celia Wren
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, October 11, 2006

It must be an odd life to be a Beatles imitator -- to hone those Liverpool vowel sounds, to don the Sgt. Pepper outfits, to tinker with high-pitched "oohs" so they sound just as they did in the classic cut "I Saw Her Standing There."

Still, the four members of the tribute band Rain appear to have a whale of a time in their plush, adoring valentine to the Beatles, which heads to Baltimore's France-Merrick Performing Arts Center from Friday through Sunday.

This cheerfully nostalgic extravaganza, which said hello and goodbye to the Warner Theatre last weekend, coasts through two hours-plus of chronologically arranged favorites, from the wide-eyed romanticism and perky beats of "I Want to Hold Your Hand" to the meditative strains of "Hey Jude."

Frequent changes of costume, wigs and artificial facial hair allow the Rain musicians, who perform the songs live, to approximate the look of the Beatles at various stages, from the adorable mop-tops who met Ed Sullivan to the individualistic hippies of "Abbey Road."

Meanwhile, video projections take us day-tripping to the turbulent '60s. Evocative images, such as a rippling Union Jack or swirling psychedelic clouds (accompanying "Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds"), alternate with eclectic historical footage: Woodstock; a TV ad for cigarettes featuring the Flintstones; the Kennedy assassination. Now and then, the montage gives way to album cover shots and other famous Beatles photos, restaged to feature the Rain quartet: Joe Bithorn, Ralph Castelli, Joey Curatolo and Steve Landes.

It all sounds a little cheesy, but once you're sitting there, you have to admit: These four rockers have invested decades in sounding exactly like the Beatles (Curatolo and Castelli joined Rain in 1983), and they've come pretty darn close.

Every famous cadence and piece of articulation, every vocal quaver, every guitar riff has been painstakingly replicated from the seminal recordings. It's a particularly impressive feat for some of the later songs, which the Beatles themselves performed only in the studio. (Rain's presiding Svengali, Mark Lewis, who recruited the foursome and oversees the musical product, assists with keyboard and percussion. According to press materials, he also inserts snippets of recorded instrumentation where necessary.)

Granted, you're always aware that it's an ersatz -- and, on one level, a wholly ridiculous -- experience. That's particularly the case when Bithorn, the George Harrison clone, emerges in Act 2 with a patently fake beard, or when Curatolo and Landes, impersonating Paul McCartney and John Lennon, engage in a little staged bickering, as if to foreshadow the Beatles' eventual implosion. And the Ringo stand-in, Castelli, whose head bops maniacally back and forth as he drums, carries a tune slightly better than Mr. Starr did, or so it seems from his brief solo in "With a Little Help From My Friends."

Two hours with a facsimile of the Fab Four, though, is arguably better than a live concert by many lesser pop entities. That was certainly the opinion of the ecstatic audience -- seemingly dominated by baby boomers -- which gave the show a standing ovation on the first night at the Warner. To get a return on your Rain investment, evidently, all you need is love.

Rain: The Beatles Experience. About 2 hours 20 minutes. At the France-Merrick Performing Arts Center in Baltimore, Friday through Sunday. Visit http://www.france-merrickpac.com or call 410-547-SEAT or 800-551-SEAT.

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