Classical Mystery Tour

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Four brunette musical talents with British accents decided to literally follow the advice Paul McCartney gave in 1968: “Take a sad song and make it better.”

During the Classical Mystery Tour, a Beatles tribute band accompanied the Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra to give a live performance Feb. 27 and 28, that included a majority of songs the Beatles unfortunately never performed live themselves.

“Since we are really big Beatles fans, we really enjoy playing the show,” said Jim Owen, the group manager representing John Lennon on the rhythm guitar, vocals and piano. “The traveling gets to be a little weary. Sometimes there’s more traveling than playing, [but] it’s always fun for us.”

The tribute band has traveled across the United States, Canada and parts of Europe and Asia. This summer it will have its first tour in Australia.

The Classical Mystery Tour guided its audience of about 1,500 through the stages of the Beatles’ recording history, beginning with shaggy-haired, clean-shaven, young-looking men in 60s-styled black suits. The band sang hopeful songs of love, lonely people and coming together with the symphony beautifully accenting each rhythm.

Next, the group progressed to moustaches and fanciful Sgt. Pepper costumes, sporting bright and shiny oranges, teals and pink in Eastern-looking outfits, resembling a soldier’s uniform mixed with a Japanese kimono.

That’s when Owen first put on John Lennon’s infamous small-circular framed glasses, which is all part of the recreation of what it would be like to see the Beatles perform in concert, Owen said. This represented the time period when the Beatles starting experimenting with drugs and different Eastern religions.

The audience’s excitement grew with each passing era, and the last time period revealed the members in their hippie denim jeans and puffy shirts.

The stage lights glowed fire-orange, reflecting the energy and power released by the harmonious symphony as it began playing faster toward the end of “Live and Let Die.”

Later, “Ringo” took over during his “Good Night” solo, persuading those in the audience to obey the song and close their eyes as they were serenaded into a deep relaxation.

This was the perfect preparation to lead into Lennon’s infamous “Imagine” solo, which the symphony beautifully accented. The notes and lyrics of this masterpiece perfectly portrayed Lennon’s utopian ideals for mankind, and some of the audience swayed their lighters and glowing cell phones to the tune of the song.

The members of the band met while performing Beatlemania, a hit Broadway show that also performed renditions of Beatles’ songs.

Paul Redding performed as Paul McCartney, Tom Teely performed as George Harrison and Chris Camilleri performed as Ringo Starr during the Classical Mystery Tour.

It was Owen’s idea to incorporate an orchestra, and Jacksonville got a special chance to see a performance by the conductor who created the band’s original orchestral arrangements, Martin Herman, also a longtime composer.

“Martin only goes to some of the shows with us.” Owen said. “[But] we prefer to have him everywhere.”

Herman encouraged and guided the orchestra flawlessly through the arrangements and even stepped down from the podium to play the piano during “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”

But during the rest of the performance he stayed dedicated to the orchestra, pointing his conducting baton toward specific instrumentalists out of the 60 musicians in the symphony to chime in at just the right time.

The performers, die-hard Beatles’ fans who have each spent the majority of their lives scrutinizing and imitating Beatles’ masterpieces, drew crowds ranging from children to adults to those in their 70s and older.

The members joked that if you remember the 60s, you probably weren’t really there. Or, if you remember the 60s, you’re probably in your 60s.

“It seems to be music that catches on to each generation,” said Owen, adding that many in the older crowd probably didn’t even like the Beatles when they first came out.

Nothing else could have gotten the older crowd shaking their hips quite like the band’s finale, “Twist and Shout,” and even a couple musicians from the orchestra joined the band on stage to wiggle their hips.

The band imitated the Beatles so perfectly, one might be convinced the musicians truly believed they were the Fab Four if they hadn’t revealed their real names when the show was finished.

E-mail April Schulhauser at [email protected]