Wednesday, February 10, 2021


Kay Cole. (Photos: Michael Childers.)

SGT, PEPPER’S LONELY HEARTS CLUB BAND ON THE ROAD [Musical/Romance/Show Business/Youth] CN/AD: Robin Wagner and Tom O’Horgan; M/LY: John Lennon and Paul McCartney; D: Tom O’Horgan; S: Robin Wagner, Randy Barcelo; L: Jules Fisher; P: Robert Stigwood i/a/w Brian Avnet and Scarab Productions, Inc.; T: Beacon Theatre; 11/17/74-1/5/75 (66)

Ted Neeley, Alaina Reed, and company.

The gargantuan proclivities of theatricalist director Tom O’Horgan grew ever more tiresome to the critics in the mid-70s. His work hit a low point with this juke box musical, described by Mel Gussow as an “inflated production” suffering from “elephantiasis.” Produced at a large, Upper West Side venue formerly a movie house but increasingly used for concerts and special events, it attempted to animate the stage with a psychedelic interpretation of the Beatles’ popular 1967 rock music album.

The original 12 songs on the “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club” disc were supplemented by 17 additional Lennon-McCartney numbers. To meld the disparate songs into a unity of sorts, a transparent plot was grafted onto the score, but the glue failed to hold and the pieces fell apart.

O’Horgan’s fragile, dialogue-less book tells of how the ambitious young rock star Billy Shears (Ted Neeley) is corrupted through the machinations of the three contract-bearing, androgynously-dressed Hammermen (Allan Nicholls, William Parry, and B.G. Gibson). This group that seemed to Martin Gottfried “to represent the show’s point that the business end of pop music killed the Beatles.” Along the way, Billy’s romance with Strawberry Fields (Kay Cole) and temptation by Lucy (Alaina Reed, who received the best reviews) are also depicted.

The clichéd story was expressed through Robin Wagner’s spectacular props and Jules Fisher’s extravagant lighting. Huge, white balloons on which slides could be projected; gigantic puppets, including a hand that danced; an octopus; an enormous jar of mustard; and a 20-foot tall Statue of Liberty were among the scenic elements that led T.E. Kalem to accuse the show of being ill with “the metastasis of spectacle over substance.” He was angry at how the excellent music had been “trampled under the dreck of Tom O’Horgan’s grimagination,” and called the show a “decadent nightmare.”

Gottfried thought Sgt. Pepper “a clumsy concert with dance movement and Thanksgiving parade props. It is leaden and cheap,” while Gussow reiterated how little of anything new had been contributed from the “attic” of O’Horgan’s creativity.

In addition to the title song, the playlist included "With a Little Help from my Friends," "Nowhere Man," "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds," "I Want You," "Come Together," "Sun Queen," "Lovely Rita," "Polythene Pam," "She Came in through the Bathroom Window," "You Never Give Me Your Money," "Her Majesty," "A Day in the Life," "She's Leaving Home," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Getting Better," "Because," "When I'm 64," "Good Morning, Good Morning," "Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite," "Oh, Darling," "Fixing a Hole," "Mean Mr. Mustard," "Maxwell's Silver Hammer," "Carry that Weight," "Golden Slumbers," "The Long and Winding Road," and "Get Back."