In preparation for (and while writing) this review of SUDS’ All Things Must Pass, I listened to George Harrison’s solo album of the same name; a grand artistic statement from one of the lesser-celebrated Beatles, featuring transcendent highs and plaintive lows. All Things Must Pass (the play), staged with some slight alterations to its original 2012 script by SUDS alumnus David Potter, runs with this same spirit of ambition and assorted intrigue. Striking an effective balance between historical reverence and creativity, it chronicles true highlights of the awesome foursome’s madcap decade as the biggest band on Earth, interspersing them with a fictional exploration of the band members’ struggles following John Lennon’s death in 1980.
At the outset of the story, we meet a downtrodden Paul McCartney (Ewan Peddley), George Harrison (Alex Bryant), and Ringo Starr (Max Danta), congregating following Lennon’s murder after many years apart. The personality clashes that led to the infighting which first tore them apart inevitably remain: Paul’s ego, George’s smug superiority, and Ringo’s butt-off-all-jokes status. At first, they’re unsure of how to grieve the death of their band’s spiritual core, but, when the lighting changes and a swaggering, tinted-glasses-clad Lennon (Liv Baume) walks in, the setting suddenly morphs to 1964, where the band begins exchanging gleeful repartee while preparing for a TV appearance. The production oscillates between the rosy, Beatle-maniacal past, and the dour present, as they come ever closer together. The smoothness of these constant transitions is both a credit to Paris’ direction as well as the work of the production team, whose craft fluid sound, set, and lighting design allows the space to flourish as recording studio, home, bathroom, and more with plenty of mid-century flair – especially impressive considering the production’s mere five-week turnaround. Of the performances, Bryant and Danta are particular highlights, serving the play’s most moving and humorous moments respectively.
Equally as important as The Beatles’ personalities is their music. Led by music directors Matthew Forbes and Jim Bradshaw (who also doubles as the band’s hilariously-gentlemanlike manager Brian Epstein), the ensemble of musicians provides a near-constant backdrop to the action. Among some great original atmospheric compositions are fantastic rearrangements of classics like ‘Eleanor Rigby,’ ‘All You Need Is Love,’ and ‘Yesterday,’ all employed for punchy thematic effect.
While its ending felt somewhat emotionally overwrought, All Things Must Pass is deeply enjoyable, and delivers some fresh takes and thoughtful ruminations on the nature of celebrity. A significant feat for a band whose fifty year record was broken only this week.
All Things Must Pass is showing at the Cellar Theatre until May 1.