“Backbeat” at the Ahmanson Theatre. Credit: Craig Schwartz.

The design team turns the Ahmanson stage into a virtual black-and-white movie. It’s nice to look at, but Leveaux never finds a way to piece together the two stories, especially in act two. The Beatles glide upstage and down on a platform, Sutcliffe and Kirchherr move across stage on a series of sofas and chairs from Shabby Chic. Equally disappointing, the clubs of Hamburg always seem to be populated with a bunch of transvestites, tarts and leather queens — as if a touring company of “Cabaret” happened to be in town and showed up on a moment’s notice.
Robert Hofler – Variety

It helps that this loud but never dull “play with music,” directed by David Leveaux, positively fetishizes him. In addition to lush projections by Timothy Bird and Nina Dunn, “Backbeat” is suffused with dialogue references to Sutcliffe’s “artist’s hands,” chain-smoking, and general coolness.
Evan Henerson – Backstage

In a concession to baby boomers, “Backbeat” offers a mini-Beatles concert at the end in which the audience can release their disappointment and rock out to “Love Me Do,” “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” and “I Saw Her Standing There,” among other classics. For some, this shot of grappa will compensate for the so-so meal.
Charles McNulty – LA Times

Ultimately, this show is pretty uneven. The eventual descent into seriousness pretty much grinds the entire show to a halt. And while this is not a musical, but rather a show with music in it, in terms of the narrative pacing, the weighty drama makes for a pretty lopsided production.
Michelle Clay – LASplash

The production is first rate and has a remarkable cast who not only can act up a storm but also deliver the musical goods.
Robert Machray – Stagehappenings

Backbeat may not convince you that Sutcliffe’s role as the fifth Beatle held much importance, but it’s an engaging, plausible examination of what it took for the Liverpool lads to go from unknowns to superstars, fused with a healthy dose of killer rock ‘n’ roll.
Jeff Favre – Los Angeles Downtown News

The show’s complex story takes place on a moody, multi-level industrial set; lighting, sound and video projection also enhance the underground atmosphere. As for the music, dozens of tunes are played and sung by the lead actors, each of whom could make a living as a rock musician. They make you believe they are the reincarnation of the youthful Beatles, especially when, at show’s end, they belt out a medley of classic Beatle songs. It brings the audience up to its feet and turns the night into an old-fashioned sing-along, a love fest.
Willard Manus – Total Theater

If “Backbeat’s” book could equal the precision of its scenic conception, Softley’s story would be much more palatable.
Paul Hodgins – OC Register

In summation, Backbeat is a brilliant recreation of an era in musical history, not to be missed.
Don Grigware – Grigware Reviews

Backbeat teases audiences with what they want (those great Beatles songs and fresh stories), but it doesn’t deliver.
Jonas Schwartz – TheaterMania

There’s nothing particularly new about a girl-meets-rocker-boy, guy-is-caught-between-best-friend-and-lover story, but Backbeat pulls on the heartstrings with just enough freshness and toe-tapping musicality.
Emily Rome – Entertainment Weekly

Sutcliffe, played by Nick Blood, is cool and hip, and although he’d rather be painting than spending seven nights per week, six hours per night, in the smoky clubs of Hamburg, he is after all winning the girl and winning a scholarship to a German state art school. He makes a very dull main character in the midst of this low-stakes story.
Dany Margolies – ArtsInLA

Still, one would have to say that downbeat ending notwithstanding, the polished production seems more than ready for a trip to please the tourists on Broadway.
Myron Meisel – The Hollywood Reporter

This production, which marks the U. S. premiere of “Backbeat” was alive, electrifying, and dynamically acted. I was pulled in immediately into a time passed, and I did not want it to end.
Audrey Linden – LA Examiner

It was a loud and enjoyable experience, no doubt to do good business in America. See it now.
Dale Reynolds – Stagehappenings

But it’s a small quibble in a fairly effective and enjoyable evening. In fact, it has oddly stuck with me more than I expected.
Kevin P. Taft – Frontiers

Amazingly, the performers make The Beatles’ sound come alive and thrive, while using the music to punctuate the loosely flowing narrative. Capturing the original melodic elation and singular style of The Beatles, the musicianship of the players in Backbeat is impressive. What’s more, Backbeat is the sordid story of rock ‘n roll’s top-billed band of all time. It includes romance, bromance, creative conflicts and, above all, the music of The Beatles.
Ben Miles – Showmag

All in all, “Backbeat” is an enjoyable exploration of the Beatles’ formative years, and proves quite edifying for casual fans of the group.
Katie Buenneke – Neon Tommy

I wanted this show to please please me, but instead of making me twist and shout, it only put me in misery.
Jesse David Corti – Stage and Cinema

For those willing to view an atmospheric and instructive slice of pop-rock history, however, the musical has its rewards.
Les Spindle – EdgeLosAngeles

If you enjoy the music of the early Beatles and that general time era, definitely take time to feel the “Backbeat” of the Beatles.
Jana Monji – LA Examiner

Backbeat just left me in pain.
Macho Show Queen – Los Angeles Magazine

Unfortunately, despite designer Andrew D. Edward’s austere Kaiserkeller set and a host of fog machines, the book simply lacks the poetics to power up its source screenplay to the Ahmanson’s vast stage. Rather than the sordid and electrifying immediacy of the Hamburg club scene, the Beatleholics-only brew delivers little more than its soundtrack.
Bill Raden – LA Weekly

The production is smoky, dark, raw and edgy; everything that sex, love, and rock ‘n’ roll ought to be. It will make you laugh, evoke a few tears and, of course, make you want to tap your feet, bob your head, and sing out loud. It’s a comedy, drama, musical and concert, all rolled into one show. Backbeat is here and it is certainly a production worth seeing.
Janice Marie Estrada – LifeInLA

Unfortunately, without more help from the writers, Backbeat’s musical and storytelling strands fail to mesh, and lasting memories of the show “seem to vanish in the haze.”
Cristofer Gross – TheaterTimes

Unfortunately, the story, as written and performed, doesn’t hold up to the weight of the expectations of the show. The “importance” of that particular moment in rock history was stated in the dialogue, and overstated in some of the performances, but not dramatically earned. It’s as though the writers, director and therefore, some of the actors were fixated on the iconographic status of characters rather than playing them as characters and treating them like living breathing human beings.
Ramona Pilar Gonzales – Playwriting in the City

Whether or not the writer’s hands were tied by legalities, keeping them off-stage is one more example of how too much of Backbeat stays in a minor key.
Jon Magaril – CurtainUp

Presented by Center Theatre Group and Karl Sydow
In association with Glasgow Citizens Theatre
At the Ahmanson Theatre
135 N. Grand Ave., L.A.
Jan. 30–March 1, 2013
Tickets: (213) 972-4400

Filed Under: FeaturedLemonMeter


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