Snoopin Ground – Sgt Pepper's Live

The Boston Herald, November 10, 1995, Friday
Places; Snoopin’ ground
By Robin Vaughn

On Wednesday night, the Boston Rock Opera company nears the end of its run at the Lansdowne Playhouse. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band: A Concert” brings in a healthy midweek crowd, half of which saunters in around 8 or so. (Fortunately, the playhouse’s 8 p.m. curtain tends to go up at a more slackerly 8:30.)

The audience of mostly 18- to 30-year-olds is still chatting (“You have paneling in your room? Faux wood? Gross!”) as the band, led by company co-founder Mick Maldonado in full braid-shouldered gear, takes its place on the stage riser. The show’s ensemble opener snags the crowd’s attention in a hurry. BRO company star Doug Thoms, dressed in red tails and top hat, does a grand turn as “The Barker,” leading a chorus of local celebrities through a high-voltage version of the title song.

Adapted and directed by Eleanor Ramsay and choreographed by Jane Bulger, “Sgt. Pepper” stages each of its 13 songs with simple but effective interpretations. “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds” is done as a fairy tale sung by a nurse (Susan Barnaby) to a young boy (Patrick Goggin). The Mother (Linda Viens), a heartbroken housewife in a bathrobe, sings “She’s Leaving Home” in a spotlight as slides of daily domestic scenes flash behind her. In Act 2, “Noise” fanzine publisher T. Max gets some well-deserved laughs and loud applause for his comical rendition of “When I’m Sixty-Four” as The Man from the Motor Trade, an oily, black-toupeed bum-pincher in a polyester sportcoat.

The band meets the daunting challenge of covering one of the best-loved albums in rock ‘n’ roll history. With a conservative amount of sampled sounds and exotic instrumentation (tabla, sitar), the band for “Sgt. Pepper” gets the feel right, if not every note and tone of the Beatles recording. As keyboardist Jeff Allison points out, “If it were too close (to the original) it would sound like ‘Beatlemania.’ Anyway, it’s too hard to play this stuff exactly. The Beatles didn’t even do it live.”

Allison says the playhouse offered to extend the show beyond tomorrow, but scheduling would have been too hard for many of the players. “We’re probably going to do it again at some point. I hope so. There was a lot of work put into it for only eight shows.”