Just Imagine, LA

Written by:
George Alexander
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Tim Piper stars as John Lennon in “Just Imagine.”
Photo courtesy of the Hayworth Theatre

Just Imagine—The Legend Returns

Written by Steve Altman and Tim Piper
Directed by Steve Altman
Starring Tim Piper
Hayworth Theatre, Los Angeles
March 5-April 24, 2011

It was a hard day’s night for Tim Piper in the Hayworth Theatre’s revival of “Just Imagine—The Legend Returns” and everyone in attendance was both the happier and sadder for it.

The show is a two-hour reprise of John Lennon’s life and music, complete with 20 or 30 Beatles songs interleaved (see video clip below), with Piper, as Lennon, talking off-handedly about this Beatle’s early, unhappy childhood in Liverpool; his troubled school years; his marriage to Cynthia Powell and indifference to Julian, their son; his match-ups with Stu Sutcliffe, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, Pete Best and Ringo Starr and their larval stage [The Quarrymen] before emerging as butterflies [i.e., The Beatles]; the management of Brian Epstein; the transition from live concerts to recording studio artists; the band’s break-up in 1980 and subsequent on-again/off-again relations with McCartney [“he was extra-virgin olive oil,” Piper quoted Lennon, “and I was the vinegar”] and Harrison; his druggy years; his Los Angeles exile and May Pang; and, finally, his redemption with Yoko Ono and their son, Sean.

With a signature “mop-top” hairstyle and round granny glasses, Piper looks like Lennon, plays likes Lennon, sounds like Lennon and tries to bring Lennon back to life—just not exactly, as that old Hertz TV commercial would have it.

Lennon regarded the world with a detached, sardonic attitude. Piper doesn’t quite capture that; moreover, it was disconcerting when he would walk away from his open mike—the set resembles a recording studio, with a large projection screen at the back showing various clips and animation based on Lennon—to pick up a guitar or don one of the Beatles’ emblematic jackets, tossing comments casually over his shoulder in the act. Perhaps a few members of the audience close to the stage heard those asides; most did not.

A minor quibble, indeed, because “Just Imagine” is a concert not a drama and Piper—backed by his younger brother Greg Piper (bass guitar), Don Butler (lead guitar), Don Poncher (drums) and Morley Bartnoff (keyboard)—made that clear with hard-driving versions of “Revolution,” “Money (That’s What I Want),” “I’ve Got A Feeling,” “I Am the Walrus” and other up-tempo songs. The group also had Lennon’s softer side right in ballads like “Julia” and “Norwegian Wood.” Applause was loud and sustained after every piece; that was the “happy.”

The “sad” came at the end, as the house lights came up, the audience arose in standing ovation and Piper walked briskly offstage.

What? Hey, wait! What about Lennon’s iconic “Imagine”? You can’t have a show titled “Just Imagine” and not play … oh, OK. Here’s Piper back on stage, quickly changed from jeans and a T-shirt into a white suit, straight off the Abbey Road album, striding across the stage to the keyboard.

If any music of this era merits preservation in amber, like a Cretaceous fly, it is Imagine.” Piper played its haunting melody and wistful lyrics thoughtfully, even reverently: John Lennon deserves nothing less.

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