One of the goals of Richmond Shakes is to make the classics the most accessible…
Steve Landes’ fascination with The Beatles started when he was ten years old. His parents and older sisters were huge fans and had memories of when The Beatles first appeared on the scene. “My sisters had posters, the 45s, and t-shirts packed away in the attic,” he says. “After I heard The Beatles, I rummaged through that stuff and claimed it all for myself.”
Fast-forward a few years and Landes is now making his living portraying John Lennon in the show, Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles. The show, presented by Broadway In Richmond, plays the Carpenter Theatre at Dominion Energy Center on February 15 at 7:30 p.m.
Landes began portraying Lennon years ago in Beatlemania. “It was the same type of show, a multi-media production, that surrounds a Beatles tribute,” he says, adding that he joined Rain in 1998.
The members of Rain have taken great pains to make their show different from other tribute shows. “The whole theme is different. None of the tribute bands had focused on recreating the high points of The Beatles career,” Landes says. “That became the foundation for where we were going.”
Landes was chosen to play Lennon not only because he looks the part but also because of his musical and vocal abilities – he plays rhythm guitar, piano, and harmonica. “As much as I love all the Beatles, Lennon stuck out to me. My vocal range is the same as John, who has a lower vocal range than Paul,” he says. “The timbre of my voice, the inflections lent itself to John Lennon.”
There is a fine line between acting and embodying the character and merely imitating or doing an impression. “We want the audience to feel as if they are revisiting these times,” Landes says. “We want them to see these people come to life.”
He’s spent most of his life researching The Beatles, especially Lennon. “I have hundreds of Beatles books, videos, etc.,” he says, noting that he studies Lennon’s “body language and facial expressions when he’s singing and also when he’s just standing there. It’s interesting for me to watch John watch Paul. There’s camaraderie. He looks at him like an older brother.”
According to Landes, the brotherly love The Beatles had is one of the things that draws people to a concert experience like Rain. Landes adds, “The music is important, but people love The Beatles, the personalities, the way they interacted with each other. It’s the sort of thing you can’t get with just the albums.”
Each year the group switches up the show. Last year, the show celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album and it’s doing the same this year. “We said let’s move things around and make space for doing the whole album from beginning to end,” Landes says. “It’s been amazing to see the effect of what doing that sort of thing has on the audience.”
A while back, Landes had the chance to meet Pete Best, pre-Ringo Beatles drummer, and visit Liverpool’s Casbah Club. “The Beatles cut their teeth there,” he says about the club. “The club is in the basement of Pete’s house. It was a great night.”
The one Beatles song that really sticks out to Landes is In My Life. “The lyrics are beautiful. It’s a heartfelt song about his childhood and being the person he is. That’s one of the things that makes their music important to people,” he says. “I get to sing that every night. What an honor I have.”