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Drummer in Beatles tribute slips easily in Ringo Starr role

Thursday, March 14, 2013
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“RAIN — A Tribute to The Beatles,” a multimedia show that combines live performances of music with video and dialogue, will be at The Palace Theatre in Albany on Monday. (photo: Cyllavon Tiedemann)
“RAIN — A Tribute to The Beatles,” a multimedia show that combines live performances of music with video and dialogue, will be at The Palace Theatre in Albany on Monday. (photo: Cyllavon Tiedemann)

After close to 30 years, being Ringo Starr comes naturally to drummer Ralph Castelli.

Since 1986, Castelli has played Starr in “RAIN — A Tribute to The Beatles,” a multimedia show that combines note-perfect live performances of The Beatles’ music with video, dialogue and elaborate stage sets and lighting. Before that, Castelli was Starr in the touring production of “Beatlemania” and the subsequent film version.

But his life-long obsession with Starr began much earlier. Like so many other kids in the ’60s, Castelli first became enamored of The Beatles, and especially Starr (born Richard Starkey), after seeing their performance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in 1964. It’s always been easy for him to slip into the role.

“I don’t mean to sound kind of strange, but it kind of came easy to me because I was such a fan at such an early age,” Castelli said recently from his home in Reno, Nev.

“Ringo had his own style, his own style of playing, and his style of play was transcended into him. I wanted to be him — The Beatles taught all of us how to play an instrument. I have many other drummers that I follow to this day, but Ringo’s still out there performing, and he’s in his 70s.”

RAIN — A Tribute to The Beatles

Where: Palace Theatre, 19 Clinton Ave., Albany

When: 7:30 p.m. Monday

How Much: $52, $42, $30

More Info: 465-3334, www.palacealbany.com

Outliving their models

By now, “RAIN,” which was formed by keyboardist Mark Lewis as an original rock group called Reign and eventually became the world’s first tribute act, has been around for longer than The Beatles were together. The show is still going strong, touring the world every year with multiple musicians. In July of 2011, “RAIN” concluded its first 10-month, 300-plus show run on Broadway.

On Monday night, “RAIN” will once again return to The Palace Theatre — the show was last at the venue in early 2011. With more than 200 Beatles songs to draw from, including material that The Beatles themselves never performed live, the show will be significantly different from the last time.

“We changed half of the songs — we have a 50-percent different song list,” Castelli said. “We changed out some videos, and we added some more lights, so there’s more of a light show. We added more pictures, more backdrops, more sets, so the show grew and was changed quite a bit. And we can do it — we’re lucky enough to do it because we have such a great song list that The Beatles provided for us.”

The show traces The Beatles’ career from the legendary “The Ed Sullivan Show” performance on up to the band’s breakup in 1970, complete with period costume changes, makeup and sets. A lot of preparation goes into turning the group’s members into Beatles.

“It starts with makeup — we’ve had some makeup experts team up with us, and they give us a lot of tips about how to bring out certain characteristics in the face, whether it’s John, Paul, George and also Ringo,” Castelli said.

“And then you have mustaches and sideburns that are added as the show progresses, because we progress along with their journey in their career — chronologically speaking, as they get older we get older, the hair gets longer, on and on. And the accents — I think this is pretty easy for the guys; they grew up with it and practiced it, so it’s a part of their life.”

Core group

Castelli is a member of the core group of musicians who have been with “RAIN” the longest, along with founder Lewis, Joey Curatolo (vocals, bass, guitar and piano in the Paul McCartney role), Joe Bithorn (vocals and lead guitar in the George Harrison role) and Steve Landes (vocals, guitar, piano and harmonica in the John Lennon role).

By 1982 the original lineup, which built up a following in its native Los Angeles after switching to solely Beatles covers and changing its name, had dispersed, leaving Lewis to gather former cast members of “Beatlemania” — the other four in the core group are all veterans of that show’s touring days.

“ ‘RAIN’ actually predated ‘Beatlemania’ — Reign was an original group in Los Angeles, Hollywood, trying to get into the record business with some great songwriters, but they never got a record deal,” Castelli said.

“In trying to generate money, like any band does, they went out and played sets of Beatles music — they were all Beatles fans anyway, so they’d put a costume on and they’d sing. I went to see them when I was in high school — I was a Beatles fan, and they were the only band at the time that did any Beatles.”

While inhabiting the personas in The Beatles is by this point second nature to the group, there remain plenty of other challenges to reproducing the music faithfully. In particular, the band utilizes its fifth member to help re-create the studio tricks and overdubs found on The Beatles’ later albums such as 1967’s “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” and 1968’s self-titled double album, regularly referred to as “The White Album.”

Fifth member

“We have a fifth member; he accompanies us on the side of the stage for the beginning when we perform live on ‘Ed Sullivan’ and Shea Stadium, so it’s just four onstage, and then he’s rolled out onto the stage from ‘Sgt. Pepper’s’ on and people can definitely identify the fifth guy playing all the other parts,” Castelli said.

“It’s how we’re able to pull off the overdubs and orchestrated parts, by having a fifth member, but you have to have the musicianship in order to get to pull it off the correct way. There’s ways around it. It’s tricky to perform some of this music, especially when they never performed it live. And we want it to just be letter perfect for the audience — it’s not our rendition; you want to hear The Beatles’ rendition.”

 
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