Hey Jude, refrain, don’t revisit the Beatles ever again!
Twas the night after Christmas, an expectant full house, a stench filled the air, and it weren’t just the sprouts. Copenhagen’s finest, dressed up to the nines, attending Østre Gasværk Teater’s latest show – now have they got the lines! A fab foursome ‘theatre concert’, its second in three years, performed before gentry and corporate, supping popcorn and beers. The proletariat on the balcony, clapping the tomfoolery, the hooray Henriks in the stalls, rattling their jewellery, coming together, unified as a nation, in deafening applause and a standing ovation. For this is our kind of musical, let the world acclaim: Lennon and McCartney … are honorary Danes.
Except they’re not, so why are so many people embracing this rubbish like it’s the ‘Ben Hur’ chariot race? Because that thunderous, relentless, foot-stomping acclaim from the 4,200-strong audience was completely out of proportion compared to the insipid spontaneous applauses that greeted each number, and the complete absence of head movement all evening long (correction, the bald ‘X Factor’ judge was most definitely bobbing up and down in row three). Still, it’s worth considering at this juncture that sheep are remarkably still as well, unless startled into action.
It did, dare I say it about a show in which all the lyrics are in English, feel like a very Danish affair – after all, just after the Christmas hols, most Johnny foreigners were still malingering abroad. And the flag-waving politicos were certainly out in force: I counted five in my neck of the woods, including a former tax minister who had obviously got a pass from Mumsy to stay up past his bedtime, another prominent name who sat directly in front of me and proceeded to fart his way through the entire second act, and a particularly loud clapper who prompted half my row to turn around – it was only Margrethe Vestager!
It was clearly an occasion to be seen having a good time, but why this production? What’s the secret? Østre Gasværk Teater have for several years been staging ‘theatre concerts’ that feature the music of a well-known act (Gasolin’, Bob Dylan, Mozart, the Beach Boys), limited dialogue and no plot (as abhorrent as jukebox musicals are, at least they feature plots!). This enables the production to do what it wants on stage – the sky’s the limit and with the use of stage wires, it invariably takes us there.
The results were often spellbinding. ‘Hey Jude’ made particularly good use of a massive fan, crane and suspended container – in fact, everything was big: the stage, the ambition and at one point the women’s dresses. There was also good use of light, most notably the silhouette in ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’ and the overall effect in ‘Hey Jude’, and the costumes were magnificent – the LSD-period Beatles (the creator Anja Vang Kragh has previously designed for Stella MacCartney) would have approved although Brian Epstein might have held reservations.
But at the same time it was all so pointless. A couple who want to hold each others’ hands through a giant inflatable prophylactic – guess the song. Or the Marilyn Monroe ‘Seven Year Itch’ homage with a prostrate man holding onto her foot to presumably keep her on the ground – I scanned the audience for laughter, but there was none, so in the words of Eleanor Rigby: Who is it for? (Other than the lonely people and sheep.)
Granted, it was deliberately plotless. So is the circus. But why oh why were the soul-piercing, life-affirming melodies of the best band to ever grace this planet so flat: “Hey Jude, you got it wrong! You take bad songs and make them better. From the minute that you did begin, it was a sin … against the Beatles.”
Of the 39 songs performed, only a handful (‘Ticket to Ride’, ‘I Saw Her Standing There’, ‘Can’t Buy Me Love’, ‘Magical Mystery Tour’, the second half of ‘A Day In The Life’, ‘The Ballad of John & Oko’ and ‘Blackbird’) offered the kind of cover version you could see gracing the charts or even a reality TV show. Which is a shame, as the musicianship was accomplished throughout, at times exhilarating, and kind of cool. And the singers (particularly former ‘X Factor’ judge Pernille Rosendahl) weren’t bad either … when they weren’t being directed to perform off-key melodies. It would make even Simon Cowell long for a simple karaoke version.
It all makes me wonder whether ‘Come Together’ was the product of a lifetime’s worth of Beatles covers – inspired versions of songs the writing team had been sitting on forever, while ‘Hey Jude’ was something they had to rustle up on demand in a matter of months. After all, ‘Scary Movie’ was infinitely better than ‘Scary Movie 5’, if you get my point.
But in the end, the public gets what the public wants: a sequel to a musical without a plot that they can pretend to enjoy at the end as the best of Danish. Which begs one last question: while John Lennon’s coffin is turning in earnest, why aren’t the doors of the lawyers of Paul McCartney? Or Michael Jackson’s estate. Or whoever owns the rights to these precious songs and so wilfully allows them to be bastardised.
“And anytime you think of trying again, hey Jude, refrain, don’t cover the whole anthology. Nah nah nah nah nah nah, nah nah nah.”
December 28 at Forum