What if The Beatles never broke up? Tribute show in Hong Kong ponders alternate reality

Chris McBurney, who plays Ringo Starr in The Beatles tribute musical Let It Be, is excited to visit Hong Kong for the first time and help share the magic of the Beatles

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 July, 2016, 4:32pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 20 July, 2016, 5:24pm

Chris McBurney is grateful to The Beatles. Not only was the legendary rock group one of his first musical influences, but the music of the Fab Four – John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr – also led him to the love of his life and is how he earns his living today.

McBurney was seven years old when he heard his elder brother playing the White Album in the basement.

“That album really spoke to me, even as a kid I knew it was special. The Beatles can really speak to so many different types of people and generations,” he says.

“There will never be another band like them.”

McBurney’s current band, however, is trying to be. He plays Ringo Starr in The Beatles tribute musical Let It Be, running in Hong Kong from July 22 to 24.

And this isn’t his first time dressing up as one of the famed mop tops – he previously played in Rain: A Tribute to The Beatles, the long-running theatrical production. Let It Be, started in 2012, is from the same producers.

This year, Let It Be has been revamped, effectively condensing the earlier version of the show that followed the band from their early concerts in Liverpool to their split in 1970 into the first half.

The remainder of the show is all new material and imagines a world in which the group never broke up and draws on their full repertoire, playing songs from all stages of their careers and throws in some chart hits from each of their solo careers.

“There was so much speculation about what if The Beatles had got back together. So many people were so upset when they broke up and then it became about when are they going to get back together and will they do a reunion?” say McBurney.

“We are taking the audience on that idea – what if they had got back together? What songs would they have played?”

The fictional reunion is set in 1980, a few months before John Lennon was shot, when all The Beatles were pursuing their solo careers. This incarnation of the show means that they are able to include post-Beatles songs such as Imagine, Live and Let Die and Band on the Run.

McBurney says the show spans the generations and he’s seen seven-year-old children in the audience with their 70-year-old grandparents.

More books have been written about The Beatles than another other show business act or artist, which not only makes for some hardcore fans, but also keeps McBurney’s job interesting.

“There is so much out there that I’m always discovering – books, music, videos and isolated tracks. We as musicians go over each song with a fine-tooth comb and listen to isolated tracks and kind of geek out on the music,” he says.

To prepare for his role, he not only listened to the music, but also watched videos of the band very closely so that he could learn to imitate Ringo’s unconventional drumming style.

“He sat very high on the drum set and he’s actually left-handed, but he sits at the drum set as a right-handed drummer so this helped form his inventive and creative style. He’s a really underrated and brilliant drummer,” says McBurney.

He’s looking forward to the upcoming performances that will mark his first time in Hong Kong, although he has travelled in Asia and has a special connection to Japan.

“I met my wife when Rain went to Japan. She was part of the production crew back then. I have The Beatles to thank for so much in my life – meeting my wife, my livelihood, and I’ve learned a lot about music by listening to The Beatles,” says McBurney.

Let It Be, July 22-23, 8pm; July 24, 10.30am and 3.30pm, AsiaWorld-Expo, Lantau, HK$688, HK$488, HK$288 HKTicketing