Beatles cover bands, like synthetic diamonds, have improved measurably since they first appeared a few decades ago, but they'll always constitute a compromise, a substitute that's acceptable only because the real thing is out of reach.
Like a high-end cubic zirconia, "Rain -- A Tribute to the Beatles," opened an eight-performance run Tuesday at the Pantages Theater. The two-hour homage to pop music's most brilliant gem has the Southern California-based quintet, which includes a keyboardist who works mostly offstage, walking the audience chronologically through the band's extraordinary catalog as period images are projected on screens behind and flanking the musicians.
The accompanying visuals hit the obvious touchstones: The Eisenhower era and Chuck Berry, JFK and the Beatles invading American shores, the Vietnam War and the emergence of hippie culture. As time progresses, the fellows standing in for John, Paul, George and Ringo, all of whom developed their chops in the stage production "Beatlemania," change costumes -- evolving from "The Ed Sullivan Show" and Shea Stadium eras through "Sgt. Pepper" and "Abbey Road."
It might be for the best that "Rain" keeps its goals modest. It would be pretty difficult to imagine anyone matching, much less topping, the remarkable theatricalization of the Fab Four's music that Cirque du Soleil has come up with for its Las Vegas show "Love," which is about to enter its fourth year at the Mirage.
Joey Curatolo, playing McCartney as a right hander, is the most gifted singer of the bunch, and he captures both the exuberance of "All My Loving" and the guttural heft of "Carry That Weight." Steve Landes gets the sweetness and vulnerability of Lennon's vocals in "Girl" and "Strawberry Fields Forever," but has a tougher time evoking the primal growl needed to generate his role model's urgency in "Twist and Shout" and "Give Peace a Chance."
Joe Bithorn's George Harrison and Ralph Castelli's Ringo Starr get just a moment or two each in the spotlight. Still Bithorn drew one of the night's biggest ovations after a nicely sculpted rendition of "While My Guitar Gently Weeps," while Castelli shone on an especially endearing reading of "With a Little Help From My Friends."
Shows such as "Rain" highlight Ringo's contribution to the Beatles because the sonic compression applied to his drums on the band's original recordings is stripped away, bringing out the visceral power of his genuinely inventive rhythmic foundation.
Offstage, Mark Lewis helps flesh out the show's sound, supplying the synthesized string and horn parts that are crucial to the more elaborately arranged later works. On Tuesday, his contributions were often placed too high in the sound mix, and overwhelmed "Golden Slumbers."
The audio mix also added large dollops of reverb to the vocals, which made the early Beatles numbers sound like the heavily re-processed U..S. recordings.
Still, "Rain" offers an impressive approximation of the group, which easily will captivate casual fans, and is more than respectful and accomplished enough to please, please Beatlemaniacs too.
'Rain -- A Tribute to the Beatles'
Where: Pantages Theater, 6233 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles
When: 8 p.m. today through Saturday; 2 p.m. Saturday;
1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Sunday
Price: $25 to $75
Contact: (213) 365-3500 or www.broadwayLA.org