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‘Lennon’ imagines life without Beatles

Musical takes ‘Ono-centric’ view of musician’s life
/ Source: Reuters

A new Broadway musical about John Lennon was greeted with mixed reviews Monday and is likely to disappoint Beatles fans, but the former Beatle’s widow Yoko Ono said he would have enjoyed it.

“I think he would be jumping up and down, I think he would have loved it,” said Ono, who was closely involved in the production since she controls the rights to his songs.

“My role was to protect John’s music,” she told Reuters after “Lennon” opened Sunday.

Several critics disliked what The New York Times called the musical’s “Ono-centric” view of Lennon’s life.

The show skips through the early years of his musical career, when the Beatles revolutionized popular music, and gives little weight to his first marriage and son before he met Ono, and then quit the Beatles in 1970. It also glosses over a later affair when he and Ono lived apart for more than a year.

“Imagine there’s no Beatles, imagine no iconic movies, no White Album, no poetry books, no drawings,” Newsday’s Linda Winer wrote. “Then imagine there’s no son before Sean, no mistress named May Pang, no deep depression, nothing really serious with drugs.”

Beatles fans also may be disappointed that the musical includes very few of the group’s songs -- not least for copyright reasons -- and when the “Fab Four” are seen singing on stage, they are played by the four women in the cast.

“This is John Lennon, the legend, as filtered through the protective, selective, up-with-people, later-life self-interest of Yoko Ono Lennon,” Newsday wrote.

In an interview before the opening, director Don Scardino who wrote the show by trawling through interviews, notes and tapes and using Lennon’s own words for the entire script, said the show presented Lennon’s own view of his life.

“Looking back on his life you get to a certain point in the story and there is no story of John without Yoko,” he said.

“He was hurt when people didn’t either embrace Yoko or his love for Yoko, but finally he didn’t care,” Scardino said.

‘Broadway belting’Despite some warm praise for the cast, some critics were not impressed by the way Lennon’s music was presented.

“’Lennon’ ... does everything it can to blow John’s simple songs into something garish and grand,” Daily News critic Jim Farber wrote. “Apparently the makers of ’Lennon’ never met a ballad too intimate to be whipped into a show-stopper.”

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The New York Times said the the songs’ arrangements and delivery “tend toward either aggressive Broadway belting or Carpenters-style schmaltz...”

The New York Post was a little more generous, praising the ”virtually flawless” cast who each take a turn at playing Lennon in the biographical show, from his childhood in Liverpool to his assassination in New York in 1980.

“It benefits from its nine-person cast, superb from top to bottom, and, let’s face it, expectations so reduced as to be almost minimal,” Post critic Clive Barnes wrote.

Speaking after she joined the cast on stage for the curtain call Sunday, Ono, 72, who still lives in the New York apartment building where Lennon was shot 25 years ago, brushed off media sniping about her influence on the show in recent weeks.

“People will say something so let them say it,” she said.

She said watching the show was an emotional experience, particularly at the moment of his murder which is not shown but described by a police officer who was first on the scene.

“The show is full of sense of humor and it’s just laughing, laughing, laughing, and suddenly it hits you,” Ono said.

“But that’s how it was. It was very sudden. And it is still a bit difficult for me to watch that.”