Blender Theater at the Gramercy
If the handbills posted suddenly around New York several weeks ago advertising four Rutles reunion gigs seemed improbable, as it happened, the probability played out. The Rutles are not performing this week and weekend at the Blender Theater at the Gramercy at Your Mom at 23rd Street. Which is a shame. Instead, as the promoters (eventually) pointed out, it is Rutlemania, staged by creator Eric Idle and Saturday Night Live producer Lorne Michaels, and performed by the Fab Four, a Los Angeles-based Beatles tribute. As the dry run for a Spamalot follow-up, the reenactment of Idle’s 1978 television parody is dinner theater minus the dinner —something marginally less than a shame because, really, why not? Not quite heavy, Rutlemania is at least lite-to-medium meta, and was mostly empty, despite the opening of Beatles Convention 2008 at the Meadowlands tomorrow.
Employing their full wardrobe of Beatles regalia, the Fabs chugged gamely through Neil Innes’s Ron Nasty/Dirk McQuickly songbook, accompanied by movie clips, two girls frugging and grinding in various degrees of slutty undress on and against roadcases, and mega-hammy dialogue that perverted Liverpudlian good humor into creepy camp. (“They’re calling it ‘the British Invasion'” Michael Amador’s Stig O’Hara/George Harrison declares about the wave of popularity that will deliver the Rutles to their hoards of teenage girls in America. “I intend to invade several of them!” Rolo Sandoval’s Barry Womble/Ringo replies.) The original film—with cameos by Bill Murray, Gilda Radner, Mick Jagger, and Harrison himself—dominated, along with several new clips featuring Steve Martin, Conan O’Brien, Bonnie Raitt, David Bowie, and, uh, Jewel? Tom Hanks? What?
Thankfully, between the costume and moustache changes, were Innes’ songs, masterful Lennon/McCartney jumbles that resembled what Lennon and McCartney might’ve written under slightly different circumstances, “Ouch!”— played in appropriate sequence between A Hard Day’s Rut and an appearance at Che Stadium (named for the Cuban guerrilla leader, Che Stadium)—resounded with the same emotion as Lennon’s “Help!” had John woken that day and thought “Ouch!” instead. And, indeed, there is probably another world where Lennon paired up with an avant-garde artist named Chastity (“a simple German girl whose father invented World War II”) instead of Yoko. But, perhaps due to the screaming girls already overdubbed onto every song, nobody sang along, or even stood.
Around the performance’s second half, the band dug slightly into Innes’ ill-conceived 18-year later follow-up, Archaeology, to fill out the set, including a medley based around “Major Happy’s Up-And-Coming Once Upon A Good Time Band.” Throughout, the Fab Four were crisp, though the notion of Innes performing the song with Ricky Fataar, the one-time Beach Boy who played Stig O’Hara, lingered. All they needed was cash, one supposes—the organizers or the musicians.
In the end, the Fab Four stepped through the mirror, seguing from “Get Up and Go” (a song Lennon once predicted to Innes that McCartney might sue over) into “Get Back” itself. Which, maybe predictably, is when the crowd stood. Suddenly, the musicians seemed less confused. Though dressed in Let It Be rooftop finery, they readapted to their Hamburg stances and hammered through “I Saw Her Standing There” and “Twist and Shout” while white people bopped unskinnily in the aisles. And then they played “The End,” a fitting choice, given the song’s lyrics, about how “the love you take is equal to the love that is refracted back to you at half the light via a tribute to a parody act.”