Scott Christensen has been with The Beatles cover band, Rain, for almost a decade, as both scenic designer and lead production manager on behalf of Annerin Productions, producers of Rain: A Tribute To The Beatles. “When we started working with the band they were in cardboard cases and doing cruise ships,” Christensen recalls, pointing out that even today the show is performed on a rather basic set. “Essentially it’s very simplistic,” he says. “It’s different from a usual Broadway show and has more of a concert feel, but with theatrical elements for the various periods in The Beatles’ history.”
Video is used on Rain’s tour, but augmented on Broadway, with the addition of two screens dressed to look like period TVs, and placed in front of the proscenium, one on each side of the stage. “The video tells the story of The Beatles, and we play old commercials on these TV screens,” notes Christensen. “Most people’s recollection of The Beatles is seeing them on TV. The video montage takes you to when they first came to America. The curtain opens and the look on stage evokes the first time they appeared on the Ed Sullivan show.”
In addition to the two TV screens used as projection surfaces, a huge TV projection appears on a scrim placed right behind the main curtain that was added for a few scenes in the Broadway production. An Ed Sullivan look-alike introduces the band. “We pull out the main black curtain and make it look as if they are framed by the big TV on the scrim,” notes the designer.
At this point in the show, the lighting evokes old black and white TV as well, with no color added yet. “At the Neil Simon Theatre, where the show premiered on Broadway, we flew in a few old Fresnels for a TV vibe, but we don’t have the depth at the Brooks Atkinson,” Christensen points out.
For “A Hard Days Night,” imagery from the movie is used to enhance the song on stage: “ We mimic the look of the movie,” says Christensen. From there the action segues to Shea Stadium and the first time that a large, upstage projection screen is used. “We project Shea Stadium in the background, two sets of stadium lights fly in, plus some blue police barricades stage right and left. And green is added to the lighting to evoke the grass at Shea Stadium.”
From Shea Stadium, Rain moves into Sgt Pepper and the mood shifts with dry ice for fog, flowers, and an explosion of color. “We built on the design of the album cover, for a more psychedelic look,” notes Christensen. “There are two keyboards for the band, on carts rolled on at this point, as well as the shell of a baby grand for John Lennon to play… and the downstage scrim comes in for Strawberry Fields, with mystical projections on the upstage screen, on the band and the scrim, almost like a snow-globe effect at the end of Act I.”
One noticeable set change at the top of Act II, are the band risers, which had black bases at first, but switch to white for the second act. The drum heads also change, evoking the various logos The Beatles used for different periods in their career, but adapted for Rain.
For “All You Need Is Love,” the peace and love era begins. “Two walls fly in to replicate a TV show with peace and love posters and elements of that period for The Beatles,” explains Christensen, who notes that the Abbey Road sequence provided new challenges once the show moved to the Brooks Atkinson. “The stage was bigger at the Neil Simon. Now there is no wing space, and we had two London buildings that replicated Abbey Road, now they are flats (one is a replica of the Abbey Road studios), and we bring in a street lamp. A Google Earth effect takes us to London, where we land on Abbey Road.” Most of the sets where built in Toronto at Production Canada (via Todd Skinner), with some pieces built in NYC at Hudson Scenic.
“The show is very much a Beatles concert presented in a theatrical context, very video driven, from the commercials to the images in the show,” says Christensen. “There is also a lot of Beatles trivia, on the TVs before the show—as soon as you walk in there is a lot going on. The show is very energy driven as well, as the band feeds off the audience and vice versa. Most people have memories of The Beatles, but not live… here is it all played live, recreating what was actually many tracks in the studio. Kids come in Sgt Pepper outfits and know all the words. And while not many people notice, The Beatles song, “Rain,” is played as the audience leaves the theatre.”