Beatlemania visits UNO

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By Jamie Sughroue-Linale, Assistant Section Editor

Curly head bouncing up and down, giant grin stretched across his face, fingers strumming the air, attentively mimicking his father’s movements on stage, Ryan McGuigan’s young son sat in the front row at “Yesterday and Today: The Interactive Beatles Experience” in the Strauss Performing Arts Center this past Saturday night. He embodied the soul of this intimate, personable show – family, friends, camaraderie, participation and pure fun. 

The McGuigan brothers – Billy, Ryan and Matthew – as well as their fellow bandmates, including UNO’s own Darren Pettit, a saxophone and theory instructor, collaborated with the Heartland Philharmonic Orchestra to bring their show to the university. The 70-member orchestra is composed of students as well as community members. 

The show kicked off with an introduction from the orchestra’s conductor, Barry Ford, addressing the crowd and reminding them of their contribution – all proceeds from ticket sales went to fund student scholarships for the orchestra. He went on to provide a little tease as well – he’s hoping to make this type of event annual, and to bring in another well-known band next year.

After he concluded, the lights dimmed and the sound of the original Beatles’ voices filled the hushed venue. The brief audio clip heightened the anticipatory vibe in the theater, and as the band joined the orchestra on stage and the lights flashed, the audience’s energy was palpable as soon as the first chord was played. 

Heads bobbed, toes tapped and shoulders shook as the old, familiar hits were played, including songs like “Come Together,” “Get Back,” “Penny Lane” and “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Audience participation was heartily encouraged through clapping, singing during the chorus or dancing, as in “Twist and Shout” with the band’s own keyboardist, Leon Adams, leading the way as he jumped up, ran off the stage and to the center aisle to encourage audience members to twist with him. 

Billy McGuigan directed the tone of the show, embodying the good-natured appeal of the brothers. Self-deprecating humor and illuminating wit was frequently used through the song-transitions while addressing the audience, keeping them involved and interested.

Unlike Saturday’s performance when they chose their own set list, their usual practice is to set up a table outside the theater before the show commences with slips of paper that people can fill out to request specific songs, but they have to include a reason behind their choice. One gentlemen, recounted by Billy, in an awkwardly creepy voice, wanted to hear “Eleanor Rigby,” because it “reminded him of his job.” This fellow was an undertaker, he then related, inducing a hearty laugh from the audience. 

I spoke with a couple of young women, Hannah and Libby, after the show – one a UNO student, the other a friend that tagged along. They agreed that Billy looks like Gerard Butler, and Hannah stated that she could “hang out with them.”  What better endorsement is that?

The McGuigan brothers dedicated part of their show to their late father Bill, who passed away from leukemia in 1996, at the age of 42. They credited him as the reason for their profound love of the Beatles – in fact, so deep is their appreciation for all things Beatles that they have each named a child after them – Harrison, Cartney and Lennon.  They didn’t leave Ringo out – they named a dog after him. 

The show can be summarized as soulful and energetic, with a familial feel. The brothers were personable, humorous, slightly outlandish and very at home on the stage, making you feel at ease and comfortable with them – the perfect environment to enjoy the performance and listen to favorite songs. The orchestra was a phenomenal accompaniment to the band. If anything, they were underutilized. 

The theater was well-packed, but a noticeable absence of students taking advantage of free tickets was apparent in the first few rows.

Concerts like this are unforgettable, and only happen once in awhile.  Maybe my age and generation is showing, but I felt compelled to go out and purchase a copy of “Rock Band: The Beatles,” call all of my friends and re-create the atmosphere of the show I’d just seen.

Check out UNO’s website, keep track of what’s coming up, support your fellow peers in their theater, musical and academic endeavors.  You’re only in college once – maybe twice in my case – so take advantage of every opportunity.

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