Magical History Tour: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Magical History Tour: ACROSS THE UNIVERSE

Words are flowing out of Chris Morley...

Having taken a journey across the rich & varied universe of the Beatles on film, we can now park our yellow submarine & examine what for most is probably the musical equivalent of comfort food - the jukebox musical, which simply put is a musical minus any original music, leaning on existing hits.

It may surprise you to learn that the Fab Four's songs somehow avoided such treatment until 2007, when Across The Universe was released with a story by director Julie Taymor & writers Dick Clement & Ian La Frenais, the two scribes better known for sitcoms The Likely Lads, its follow-up Whatever Happened To The Likely Lads, Porridge & Auf Wiedersehen Pet.

Taymor is perhaps most famous for her Broadway adaptation of The Lion King which opened in 1997 & secured her a place in musical theatre history as the first woman to win a Tony Award for Best Direction of a Musical (with another for costume designs for the show) as it went on to become the highest-grossing Broadway show of all time, as well as still being among the longest running.

At the other end of the scale, she was also one of the brains behind an attempt to make a Spider-musical, a certain famous web-slinger the subject of Turn Off The Dark, music supplied by Bono & the Edge of U2. Development began in April of 2007 before repeated postponements due to injuries to members of the cast forced previews to move from November 2010 to an eventual opening in June the following year, by which time Taymor had been sacked as director & replaced by Phillip William McKinley. The whole sorry mess still holds the record for most expensive Broadway production of all time at $75 million!

Perhaps understandably keen to escape Spidey's shadow, while all this was dragging on she turned her attention to the Beatles. Superheroes to many in a different sense, given their impact on popular music even minus any recorded interaction with radioactive beetles, Bono & the Edge returned, possibly sheepishly, to provide a version of Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds over the end credits of Across The Universe.

The duo also previously guested with Paul McCartney on a Live 8 performance of the title track of Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. If that weren't enough the man born Paul Hewson also has a cameo in the film as Doctor Robert.

Bono isn't the only guest with previous form in tackling the Fab Four's back catalogue, though! Step forward the late Joe Cocker, whose cover of With A Little Help From My Friends topped the charts in 1968 & also showcased the talents of a pre-Led Zeppelin Jimmy Page as part of his backing band. No less than Paul McCartney was a fan of Joe's radical re-arrangement of the song. Speaking after Cocker died in 2014 he said...
“He was a lovely northern lad who I loved a lot and, like many people, I loved his singing.

I was especially pleased when he decided to cover "With a Little Help from My Friends" and I remember him and (producer) Denny Cordell coming round to the studio and playing me what they'd recorded and it was just mind-blowing, totally turned the song into a soul anthem and I was forever grateful to him for doing that.“
Playing three roles - a bum, pimp & hippie - could be a nod to the fact that another two Beatles covers made it onto his second & indeed self-titled album in the shape of Something & She Came In Through The Bathroom Window in a double borrowing from Abbey Road.

Cocker gets to play all three of his given parts during a crack at Come Together for the film itself, just to make it four on the soul-infused covers front! Eddie Izzard also crops up as Mr Kite to do something entirely different with Being For The Benefit Of Mr Kite. Salma Hayek is given a spot as the Bang Bang Shoot Shoot Nurses for a stab at Happiness Is A Warm Gun and Jimmy Page's fellow former Yardbird Jeff Beck lends his own guitar heroism to an instrumental version of A Day In The Life.

In all 33 Beatles songs from across their career feature in part or full in Across The Universe, forming the backdrop for the romance between an upper-class American girl and a poor Liverpudlian artist.

Roger Ebert praised Taymor's choreography and called the film...
"An audacious marriage of cutting-edge visual techniques, heart-warming performances, 1960s history and the Beatles songbook."
Yet the critical consensus on the Rotten Tomatoes website suggests that...
"Psychedelic musical numbers can't mask Across the Universe's clichéd love story and thinly written characters."
Cynics might find it hard to argue the toss on the cliché score, with characters named after Beatles songs seemingly going about things in a manner befitting almost every musical ever written as Liverpool dock worker Jude pines for a girl then finds love again. Yet McCartney loved it, as Taymor revealed...
“At the end of the screening I did the classic thing. I asked him, 'Was there anything you didn't like?' He said, 'What's not to like?'"
But then the man who penned Silly Love Songs for Wings might well say that, you may think, proof conclusive perhaps that people haven't had enough of them. Although points of view on filling the world with them differ, of course!

Perhaps a more important question to consider is a simple what would we do minus the Beatles in the first place?

Pass the smelling salts!

But it's that unthinkable premise where our magical history tour will stop next, with the Richard Curtis penned Yesterday.

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