If you want a complex, nuanced drama about the most legendary rock band of all time, you’ll come out of In My Life, Tom Maher and Andy Nagle’s musical tribute to the Beatles, disappointed. Ditto if you’re a casual fan and want to learn the story behind the band’s meteoric rise and bitter breakup. But if you’re looking for loving, sentimental reenactments of key moments in the Beatles’ career, you’ll find plenty to love about In My Life, which made its second Eugene stop at the Hult Center this last Wednesday.
The main players in the film are Epstein (portrayed by Murphy Martin) and the Beatles themselves, portrayed by tribute band Abbey Road. Appropriately for the musical, Abbey Road goes for the exact-replica approach, down to the accents (which they nail). They don’t look or sound exactly like the Beatles, but they play the part well. Nate Bott’s John comes closest to the real thing (his screaming “are you daft?” at Epstein was on-the-nose), while Chris Paul Overall’s Paul had the best voice despite not sounding terribly like Paul. And they play well, though their screw-ups are more conspicuous due to how familiar the songs are.
Epstein’s presence is less necessary. Though In My Life is an attempt to humanize the world’s most legendary rock band, Epstein never rises above the role of a besuited master of ceremonies. He comes off as stiff, tidy and square – a foil for the Beatles, who besiege him like gremlins. His biggest moment comes when he sadly slinks off backstage after failing to convince the Beatles, who stopped touring in 1966, to perform again. We find out from the background projector that he died not long after of an overdose – a suspected suicide.
The implication is that the Beatles caused Brian’s suicide through their abuse, which is disturbing. There’s not much factual evidence for this; it’s more likely he died after ingesting alcohol before taking a normal amount of prescription. But it didn’t do anything for the story except make me kind of hate the Beatles. When Brian’s ghost appears at the end of the play to introduce an odds-and-ends concert of songs the band hadn’t gotten around to playingyet, he says “this is how I’d like to remember the boys.” I can imagine his everyday memory of the “boys” in the afterlife is far different.
I expected the play to pick up a bit of dramatic heft during the Beatles’ in-fighting in the second act, but after a lengthy argument, the Beatles are magically back together again five seconds later for the final rooftop show. Most likely, In My Life expects enough viewer knowledge of the Beatles’ career arc to make up for the lack of plot. In My Life was clearly marketed towards original Beatles fans; half the crowd cheered when asked if they’d seen the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Story isn’t this thing’s strong suit. What it does well is present the Beatles’ music in a loving, nostalgic project, played by a band that loves the Beatles just as much as the writers do.