Beatles featured in Oak Bluffs spring musical

Angela Hayes (left) and Tessa Whitaker tune up, team up on "Here Comes The Sun." — Photo by Anthony Esposito

The music of The Beatles is truly timeless. Every generation since the most influential rock band of all time split up in 1970 has embraced the music of the Fab Four. And the tradition carries on today, as proven by last weekend’s spring musical at the Oak Bluffs School — a tribute to The Beatles performed by 30-plus students from the second to eighth grade.

Musical director Brian Weiland and director Shelagh Smilie credit the kids with the selection of the icons of the 60s as the theme of the spring show. This is the second year that the school has presented a musical tribute for their second musical offering of the school year. Last spring the tunes of Cole Porter and George Gershwin were featured. Mr. Weiland comments on this year’s choice:

“It largely came about because my kids were listening to The Beatles and playing The Beatles Rock Band [interactive video] game,” Mr. Weiland said. Ms. Smilie says that she noticed that her second-grade students were singing Beatles songs and requested them for the review. “We wanted to do something that everyone would sing along with,” she said.

And sing along the crowds at the three weekend performances did. Most of the audience members, including the youngest, were familiar with the music, which was obvious as they cheered before each number when a member of the chorus trotted out a hand-painted sign announcing the upcoming song.

The tunes were a good representation of the Beatles’ unparalleled diversity, although Mr. Weiland acknowledges that the early Beatles tunes didn’t feature much in the show. He says that he wanted to include a variety of tempos — in group numbers, solos, and duets.

The simple set, two moveable checkerboard-tiered platforms, were used to good effect. The twin props were rearranged mid-performance to serve variously as bleachers for group numbers and opposing platforms for duets. While the kids were dressed in a variety of all-black outfits, the green apple symbol of the Beatles record label hung over the set, provided the only onstage color.

The older kids were the featured singers while the 2nd to 5th graders were included as the chorus on the large group numbers. The little ones managed very well with the entrances and choreography and added a very appealing touch, particularly in “All you Need is Love,” in which the entire group filled the tiers clutching multi-colored flowers adding a wonderful visual to the song’s message of hope.

The show included a lot of the fun, silly tunes as well as a couple of bittersweet storytelling songs, and props and pantomime were used very effectively. “Octopus’ Garden” showcased a dancing, tentacled octopus, “Yellow Submarine” featured the iconic title graphic, and “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” evoked the psychedelic era with a cadre of kids wearing colorful round wire-rimmed glasses and executing a free-form dance. The narrative songs “Eleanor Rigby” and “Penny Lane” were acted out, with students miming some of the memorable characters’ actions.

Solo turns spotlighted some of the school’s many talented singers. Liam Weiland, who has played the drums for the school musicals since he was in first grade and also added a cello part this time around, gave an impressive first vocal performance on the show’s opener “Help.” Like his father, Brian Weiland, the sixth-grader is an adept, multi-faceted musician.

Eighth-grader Katherine Reid, a veteran of several school musicals, has developed a lovely mature voice that is both soulful and all her own. The poised young woman, who will be graduating this year, delivered a very pretty version of “I Wanna Hold your Hand.” She interpreted it as a ballad, her lilting voice adding a wistful nuance to the first-love innocence of the song.

A couple of other eighth-graders, Anna Flaherty and Cheyenne Tilton, who were also taking the school stage for the last time, delivered strongly on a couple of duets. Sixth-grader Tessa Whitaker, a who sang “Fool on the Hill” displayed a confidence and ability that belie her age.

James Robinson and Oliver Carson served both as featured singers and emcees. Mr. Carson’s affected English accent and Mr. Robinson’s clowning kept the audience entertained between songs.

Head custodian Rob Oslyn sang “When I’m 64” to his daughter Kaya Seiman, who pranced around the set, and maintained, unquestionably, the biggest, most winning smile throughout the show. Mr. Weiland provided a highlight singing “With a Little Help” along with the kids. The show closed with the moving “Imagine,” a fitting finale to a show honoring a band with as much social conscience as popular appeal. Kids holding tiny candles spread out among the audience carrying the song’s message of peace.

The kids were accompanied by a terrific band made up of professional musicians (Doug Brush on guitar, Boaz Kirschenbaum on bass, Mr. Weiland on keyboards and more, and Steve Tully on horns and wind instruments) and talented students (Liam Weiland and Thalysson Ribiero). Mr. Tully’s interpretations on saxophone, flute and clarinet made for a full, almost orchestral sound. The band introduced each act with a medley of Beatles songs and did a few other instrumentals that were much appreciated by the crowd. Hopefully Island audiences will see more of them.