Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles is now at the Pantages Theatre and has a long run on Broadway.
As a student at North Hollywood High School in the late 1960s, Mark Lewis was already playing impressive keyboards. He went on to perform in and manage Rain, a Beatles tribute band that gives audiences a chance to experience the impossible -- a live Beatles concert, complete with songs the Beatles never played live.
Bob Brunner was at the Rain show at the Pantages Theatre on Tuesday with his nine-year-old daughter Anna, who is already a huge Beatles fan. "Mom is really jealous," Anna said since her mother was at home with Anna's younger brother.
The Brunners were part of a packed house that welcomed band members Joe Bithorn, Ralph Castelli, Joey Curatolo, Steve Landes and Mark Beyer for performances through Sunday.
Left to Right: Steve Landes, Joey Curatolo, Joe Bithorn, Ralph Castelli, Mark Lewis. Photo by Stephan Gotschel.
At times, theatergoers listened while standing on their feet and clapping their hands. Other times they reflected more quietly on the place the songs have in their lives.
When Lewis played with the band (he now serves as manager) he described what it was like. "It's a very emotional experience because I'd look out at the audience... there was just an emotional love for the music and people would be crying," Lewis said.
The band got its start in the 1970s as Reign and performed a lot of original music until they started playing impeccable covers of Beatles songs. It led Dick Clark to hire them to cut the soundtrack for an ABC made-for-TV movie Birth of the Beatles.
Joey Curatolosolo. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
Around the same time, they were given a shot at becoming what Lewis believes was the first Beatles tribute band: Rain. Chet Actis managed Alan, one of the world's first Elvis tribute performers. The Elvis show was packing in audiences, so Actis was looking for a band that could do the same thing for the Beatles. He gave Lewis' band a one-night run on a Monday night at the Mineshaft in Calabassas.
They didn't have any costumes and figured they could get the cheapest Beatles look by wearing $8 black turtlenecks from JC Penney's. Despite the humble costumes, the group's musicianship won out.
"We weren't sure if anyone would show up so we invited all our friends," Lewis said. As it turned out, the prospect of hearing live Beatle's music was such a fresh idea, the band didn't need to worry -- they ended up playing to a packed crowd.
The production values have changed dramatically since the turtleneck days at The Mineshaft. The show now features sophisticated lighting, staging, video clips and costumes.
Rain performs as Sgt. Pepper. Photo by Cylla von Tiedemann.
While members of the band have also changed over the years, Rain has been paying tribute to the Beatles for 35 years with worldwide tours, a run on Broadway through January 2012, and performances this week at the Pantages Theatre.
Having played nearly "every county fair, college, and high school in the LA and Orange County area," Lewis said he can hardly believe his band is playing the Pantages. It's a theater Lewis loved to visit to see movies when he was growing up.
Founder Mark Lewis. Photo by Joan Marcus.
With multiple Rain shows in LA and New York City, several casts perform the shows. However, the band playing in LA includes members who were either born in the area or moved here while Lewis managed the group from his North Hollywood home.
The band's deep ties to the city are evidenced by hiring LA resident Jim Carberry to serve as show runner for the Pantages. Carberry, a film and TV location manager, met Lewis in high school and has stayed close with members of the cast. In addition, many of the band's local friends and family appear in the photo used on the group's album cover tribute to Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.
While the band has thrilled audiences for years at venues worldwide, Lewis does have one wish that has yet to materialize. As far as he knows, none of the Beatles have seen a Rain show. Yet Lewis is sure they would appreciate the quality Rain brings to the performances. "I think they would admire the lengths we go to (in order) to maintain the integrity of their music," Lewis said. "I think they would enjoy the show."
Like his daughter Anna, Bob Brunner was introduced to The Beatles at an early age. His parents put a copy of Meet the Beatles on his desk when he was eight. "It changed my life," Brunner said. He went on to a career in the music industry that has lasted 30 years, which includes running North Hollywood's Mates Studios.
Michelle Shepherd was at the show with her husband Jeff, and was thrilled to have a live experience of the Beatles that was more than "just repeats of The Ed Sullivan Show."
Among the fans in Shepherd's family are her 30-year-old nephew and her six-year-old daughter, who is learning Beatles songs at school. Though Shepherd and her nephew don't have many shared musical tastes, the Beatles are the rare band people from all generations can agree upon, Shepherd said.
Indeed, keeping the Beatles music alive is one of the band's goals. "We're bringing it to a new generation," Lewis said. "Parents and grandparents pride themselves in taking kids to a show, and the kids want to go home and watch a Beatles movie or listen to a record."
Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles continues at The Pantages Theatre until April 17. For information call (323) 428-1770 or click here.
This story originally ran on North Hollywood-Toluca Lake Patch.com.