A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Mar 3, 2013
10:29 PM
Classically Speaking

Wisconsin Pops Gives a Magical Mystery Tour with a Little Help from Their Friends

Wisconsin Pops Gives a Magical Mystery Tour with a Little Help from Their Friends

The landmark Sgt. Pepper’s album opens with the line: “It was twenty years ago today…,” but Saturday night in Overture Hall it might as well have been fifty years ago, or forty or thirty. For two hours or so a large crowd of mostly aging baby boomers was treated to more than reasonable facsimiles of everything from “I Saw Her Standing There,” to “Penny Lane” and “Uncle Albert.” All this courtesy of the show “Live and Let Die,” led by Paul McCartney look-alike/sound-alike Tony Kishman, with his assisting Beatles surrogates—and Andrew Sewell and the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, in their last event of this season’s Wisconsin Pops series.

Kishman acquired instant credibility at his audition for “Beatlemania” in 1977, starred with the show for about six years, and later produced and starred in this version of a Beatles tribute as well as “Twist and Shout,” and has headlined in “Classical Mystery Tour.”

In his Madison appearance, Kishman not only brought the goods as “the cute Beatle,” but exhibited an easy sense of humor and rhythm to the show’s flow as well. Coming out last on stage and launching into “Hello, Goodbye,” he responded to the ovation with, “Calm down, I’m not really him, you know. I’m just gonna play around with you for a couple of hours.”

And indeed it was in the spirit of uber-nostalgia fun that proved the operative force. Whether from the earliest hits to even a couple of lesser known numbers from the “Wings” days, Kishman did most everything right vocally, on bass and on piano. The only obvious thing that could be noted was that, unlike the real “Paul,” Kishman does not play the bass guitar left-handed.

On a purely technical note, the first half of the night in particular sounded miked as though we were in the shadow of the Capitol for Concerts on the Square. But that didn’t keep us from enjoying a number of instrumental moments from the WCO that any Beatles fan knew was coming: the “string quartet” of “Eleanor Rigby,” the piccolo trumpet in “Penny Lane,” the noodling clarinet riffs of “When I’m 64.” It was great to hear concertmaster Suzanne Beia and clarinetist Nancy McKenzie have fun with these selections and for Kishman to acknowledge Frank Hanson on trumpet, and Steve Sveum on alto sax as well.

But wait—there’s more. As built-in breaks for Kishman, John Merjave (lead guitar for the show) did a fine George Harrison imitation in “Here Comes the Sun”; in the second half, it was Jim Owen (rhythm guitar and electric keyboard) who did a fab John Lennon replication in “I Am the Walrus.” Throughout the evening, Chris Camilleri did a purely musical imitation of Ringo’s well known solos and straight-ahead drumming.

Of course, the Beatles’ songbook lends itself more readily to a symphonic treatment than most any other band one can recall. All of the expected greatest hits were represented, with the closing sequence of the Abbey Road album ending the show. If anyone noticed that one obvious choice had been overlooked, Kishman took care of that with an encore of “Hey Jude,” followed by “Can’t Buy Me Love.”

True, but for one night at least, one could buy back the illusion of adolescence. OK, now I feel old. Meet me in “Strawberry Fields.”

Photo of Tony Kishman courtesy of Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra.

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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