The Magical Mystery Tour
Fri.-Sat. Jan. 23-24, 7:30 p.m.; Sun. Jan. 25, 3 p.m.
Charleston Ballet Theatre
477 King St.
After so much time has passed and the world has changed so much, how do you paint the picture of those early days, now almost the stuff of legend, when America first met The Beatles?
The first few years of the 1960s were a simmering mix of hope and anxiety: international confrontations threatening to turn a Cold War hot, charismatic leaders rising to inspire us only to die by the hands of cowards, and a growing discontent with stifling social status.
We went to school, went to work, lived, and loved like good little boys and girls, but deep inside, we were ready to scream.
Then, all at once, four lads from Liverpool were right in front of us, guitars ringing out, telling us to let it out, twist and shout.
Years of pent up tension burst free all at once, and nothing was the same again. No wonder it was called a musical revolution.
That's the mood Charleston Ballet resident choreographer Jill Eathorne Bahr hopes to evoke with The Magical Mystery Tour, an interpretation of not only the vast catalog of rock 'n' roll classics that the Beatles produced, but also the unparalleled social phenomenon of Beatlemania itself.
"This is not a chronological story. It's a visualization of the lyrics," says Bahr, a self-described Beatles fanatic. "Listening to the lyrics of these songs can take you in so many different directions, and that's what I wanted to create for the audience: the feeling of being on a journey."
Everything from "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" to "Yellow Submarine" is fair game, according to Bahr, who promises surprises aplenty during the show.
"It isn't just the Beatles themselves, but also songs they inspired," she says. "There's this bluesy version of 'She Came in Through the Bathroom Window' by a Memphis band called The Glass Onions that I put in there. I've also woven in documentaries. It's going to be all over the board."
Willingness to break away from the standard classical repertoire, to dabble in the unexpected, has become the signature style of Bahr and Charleston Ballet. Last seaon's scorching Twisted Tango met with sold-out shows and critical acclaim during Piccolo Spoleto, and October's Rocky Horror put paid to any notion of this being a timid troupe. These are artists unafraid to stick their necks, toes, and pinkies out in the hope of showing audiences something new and innovative.
"We've always wanted to create more than just a run-of-the-mill ballet company," Bahr says. "If you're going to take the time to paint a picture, it better be the picture you want. That's been the vision of this company."
Above and beyond the show itself, Charleston Ballet's production of The Magical Mystery Tour has inspired an entire weekend of activities to surround its premiere. On opening night (Friday), a Magical Mystery Stroll will take place in the Upper King Street Design District (upperkingdesigndistrict.com). Revelers can sip an Octopus's Garden — lush with Absolut Citron, wild hibiscus nectar, cranberry, triple sec, and a hibiscus flower garnish — at Fish Restaurant, browse Beatles-themed selections at Blue Bicycle Books, or enjoy music and shopping at several other participating stores and restaurants.
"Charleston Ballet is a perfect match for the Design District," says Susan Lucas of the King Street Marketing Group. "The caliber of art they bring to the area is amazing."
After the closing performance, a reception for ticket holders will be held on Sun., Jan. 25, 4:30 p.m., at the John M. Dunnan Galleries (121 Church St.). In addition to light hors d'oeuvres, the reception will also feature a Charleston Ballet-inspired series of paintings by Dunnan.
According to Bahr, the idea that eventually became The Magical Mystery Tour began to take shape following Twisted Tango.
"As I began researching it, I started remembering so many things from when I was growing up," she says. "Watching the Beatles appear on The Ed Sullivan Show and seeing how the fans were absolutely screaming.
"And even today, if you Google 'the Beatles' or 'John,' 'Paul,' 'George,' or 'Ringo' individually, you just get millions and millions of hits. I hope something of that sense of wonder, of how much they are adored, will be conveyed in this show."
With more than 20 tunes from their vast repertoire showcased, this dance premiere is poised to please Beatles fans new and old. Bahr herself, after countless hours of research, choreography, and fine-tuning is giddy just anticipating watching it unfold.
"At least in my creative process, the puzzle only reveals itself as you're in the thick of it," she says. "Only when you get to the end do you realize that it is exactly what it was supposed to be."