The Broadway Philadelphia series is gearing up for the return of RAIN- A Tribute to the Beatles. The theatrical production takes audiences on a musical journey featuring songs from Abbey Road. Hits such as “Come Together” and “Something” are brought to life on-stage in spectacular similarity to the original Fab Four. Mark Lewis, co-founder and keyboardist, talked with Phindie about the creation and evolution of the show.
[Merriam Theater. 250 S. Broad Street] October 29-31, 2021; kimmelculturalcampus.org
Debra Danese: When and how did the concept for Rain come about?
Mark Lewis: Rain started in Orange County, or more specifically Anaheim, CA a stone’s throw from Disneyland. The band was originally formed in 1975 with the intention of doing our own originals, and eventually getting a recording contract. We also happened to all be huge Beatles fans. The idea was to perform the music of The Beatles, note for note, to a live audience who had only heard the music on a record. We didn’t just perform the hits, but a lot of the album cuts that were never performed live by the Beatles themselves. Remember, this was the mid 70’s and Beatlemania had not yet been produced on Broadway and the Beatles had just broken up five years prior. No one had ever heard of a ‘tribute’ band. We would also mix in some of our originals and some of the popular solo Beatles hits. As you might imagine, it was very difficult to play Beatles music and then try to follow it with one of your originals.
As fate would have it, a friend of the band was attending a Beatles Festival at the Hollywood Palladium and ran into a guy (Chet Actis, who worked for Dick Clark Productions) that managed an Elvis tribute band. He actually performed in Las Vegas as a headliner while Elvis was still alive and performing. Chet was in search of a Beatles band that he could use to follow up on the success of his Elvis tribute. He was convinced to come to one of our rehearsals. He was so knocked out at how well the band played, and how close we came to duplicating the sound of the Beatles, that he immediately booked us into a bar to see what would happen.
We played on a Monday night with no guarantee of any payment. We would just get whatever ticket sales came in the door. As it turned out, we sold-out our first gig and the response to the music was amazing. There was a strong emotional reaction that occurred when the audience heard the music live and with a lot of energy. The success of this engagement led to more and more shows and building a sizable following around LA. Eventually, we got the opportunity to perform the entire soundtrack on an ABC movie of the week called “The Birth of the Beatles.” This led to Rain getting national exposure and really launched the band’s career.
I should inform you that the original Rain band members had all left by late 1982. They never felt comfortable putting on costumes and performing as the Beatles. They just wanted to go on stage and play the music. This led them to going in their own different directions. It also led to new members joining the band, and a new beginning, which led to Rain becoming the band that it is today.
DD: What was your process in selecting the cast? How difficult was it?
ML: There are several different ways that one goes through the process of selecting cast members. Sometimes finding a new cast member can be very difficult, and sometimes it can be fairly easy. The most important element we look for is obviously talent. That being said, it’s a very specialized talent. In the case of a ‘McCartney’ or ‘Lennon,’ the person has to be able to play multiple instruments (guitar, bass, piano, harmonica) and has to be able to sing GREAT lead vocals and harmony. They have to have endurance to be able to sing strong every night and have some resemblance to the character they portray. Plus, they have to be comfortable wearing costumes and putting on wigs and makeup. It’s a very specialized gig. The only time it is easy to find a new cast member is when you find somebody that has experience from performing with another Beatles show. Even then, they are often not up to Rain’s standards.
If we’re looking for somebody new, we often call people we know. If that doesn’t work, we check YouTube for musicians that have experience performing as The Beatles. We also have a catalog of people that have sent us audition tapes in hope of getting a chance to audition.
DD: How has the show evolved over the years?
ML: It’s evolved in many ways. We’ve gone from being basically a band doing Beatles songs, to a band in costumes doing Beatles songs, to evolving into a fully produced show with video, sets, etc. We are always trying to think of new ways to grow and enhance our show. We’re also always trying to get the music better through the use of advanced technology and the ability to dissect the records digitally so we can hear every part on the record isolated. This enables us to listen even more closely to the parts we have to play and sing.
DD: Rain last played in Philly in 2018. Are there any new production elements that audiences will see this time?
ML: Yes. We will be focusing a large part of our show on the Abbey Road album. Especially side 2, which is really amazing and very demanding. It’s one of the Beatles great masterpieces and it’s a joy to see performed ‘live.’
DD: The cast and crew had already arrived in Philly for the March 13, 2020 opening when the show was canceled due to the pandemic. What was that experience like?
ML: It was quite surrealistic. It seemed like a bad dream. Rain had been out on tour for three days of what was supposed to be a 3- month tour. I knew things were getting bad when I heard that “March Madness” had been cancelled. Then just before the band went on stage in Hershey, PA we got word that we were going home the next morning. Next thing we knew, we were at an airport hotel in Philly waiting to go home. Unbelievable. As bad as that was, we really thought that we would be able to come out and finish the second half of the tour a month later. Obviously, that did not to happen. Here we are 18 months later finally going out on tour.
DD: In addition to being the Founder, you were also the original keyboardist. What’s your favorite memory from that time?
ML: That’s a tough question. I played keyboards with Rain for 35 years so there are a lot of very special memories and moments. Among my favorites was when the band went to Liverpool and played at the Empire Theater. The Beatles used to play there when they were just beginning to hit it big. Just thinking about being on the stage where The Beatles got started and experiencing Liverpool itself was very exciting and emotional.