“Lennon: Through a Glass Onion” is a modest, but effective homage to the late singer-songwriter.
The 65-year old John R. Waters doesn’t try to look like John Lennon or imitate his singing though he does approximate his Liverpudlian accent. This is simply a two man show. Waters handles the narrative, the lead vocals and plays the guitar. The other performer is also first-rate: Stewart D’Arrietta on piano and backup vocals.
The show uses songs from Lennon’s Beatles years and afterward and what sounds like Lennon’s own words. The only obvious exceptions are the parts dealing with the murder of the artist on the streets of New York by Mark David Chapman.
Lennon speaks about his first encounter with the musically more sophisticated Paul McCartney and his surprise at the phenomenal success of the Beatles. When he met Yoko Ono, she had no idea who he was, which was no doubt part of her appeal. He regards the antipathy toward her to be the result of racism.
Lennon acknowledges the influence of Bob Dylan, which is reflected by “Working Class Hero,” one of his most provocative lyrics. Lennon details his legal problems dealing with the FBI and the U.S. government when he and Yoko were protesting the Vietnam War. He also reveals his and Yoko’s difficulty having a child and his pride at his baby son, memorialized in the song “Beautiful Boy.”
In fact, the songs often follow the text (and are not performed chronologically), as when he discusses and then sings “Julia” about his mother. John was the most insightful lyricist in the Beatles, and the slowed down rendition of “Help” emphasizes that even some of the rockers had an undercurrent of despair. This was, of course, more apparent with “A Day in the Life” from the epochal “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album.
The Broadway productions of “Beatlemania” and “Rain” with their Beatles impersonators had more elaborate effects. However, “Lennon: Through a Glass Onion” does a better job of evoking the most interesting member of the group, as well as highlighting the significant work he did after the breakup. It’s hard not to be moved by the finale, “Imagine.”
“Lennon: Through a Glass Onion” is running at the Union Square Theater (100 East 17th Street, 800-982-2787, ticketmaster.com) through Jan. 11th.