They’re billed as the “ultimate tribute” to The Beatles. And indeed, The Fab Four – as this California-based band is called – has earned major accolades throughout its nearly 20 years of existence.
The group, which plays the Scottish Rite on Sunday, has become so popular there’s usually more than one performing cast on the road at any given time. South Jersey Beatles’ fan will be in for a treat, though, when The Fab Four performs here: both John Lennon and Paul McCartney are portrayed by the group’s founders, Ron McNeil and Ardy Saraff.
McNeil (Lennon) and Saraff (McCartney) met by chance at a music-related event, not too unlike the real-life Beatles that they portray onstage. It was 1997 and both men were attending a Beatles convention in southern California, where they live. When Saraff, portraying Paul McCartney in a Wings tribute group, performed the 1980 hit “Coming Up” for the sound-alike contest, McNeill says “the hair on the back of my neck stood up.”
“It was uncanny, how much he sounded like Paul,” McNeil recalled, adding that the year prior, he himself had won the convention’s sound-alike contest as John, performing “Imagine.”
“I started thinking: well, he sounds like Paul and I sound like John – maybe we could do something with that,” McNeill said. From there, the two began practicing Beatles songs’ relentlessly and recruiting for appropriate George Harrison and Ringo Starr sound-alike/lookalikes. (Saraff is a right-handed bass-player; he learned to play left-handed so he could properly emulate McCartney. He also plays piano in the show).
For about two years, The Fab Four played L.A. area clubs, watching their fan base grow week by week. Originally, they bought Beatles-type garb at local thrift shops, eventually graduating to official Beatles type outfits via beatlessuits.com.
They eventually landed a gig at the Las Vegas Hilton, which grew from a small 300-seat venue to a 1500-seat theater. The Fab Four brought in a second cast of musicians to perform a full stage show six nights a week in Vegas, where they played for nearly our years.
“It was fun and exciting and it really helped build our audience,” McNeil recalled. “There are a lot of Beatles tribute bands out there, but I think we bring an authenticity that sets us apart.”
None of the band’s music is “canned,” he notes: “There’s nothing taped or added; just the four of us and about 900 guitars onstage.”
The Fab Four first played the Scottish Rite two years ago to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Beatles February 1964 appearance on the “Ed Sullivan Show.”
Bill Rogers, head of BRE Presents, which books shows for the venue, says the reception the band got at its 2014 gig was “unbelievable.”
“The place went nuts; they just loved the show,” Rogers said. “It’s a great way for people who remember The Beatles when they were together to relive the experience and to also introduce their music to younger people who were born many, many years after they broke up.” (Hence, Sunday’s 3:30 p.m. show time is ideal for the expected multi-generational audience, Rogers notes).
The Fab Four’s stage show includes three costume changes, representing the various eras of their relatively short-lived, but ever-changing career. There’s even an appearance by Ed Sullivan, portrayed by actor/comedian Jeff DeHart.
McNeil says he considers it an honor to pay tribute to the iconic band, both musically and by “getting into character” as John Lennon. George Harrison, interestingly enough, is played by Liverpool native Gavin Pring, who McNeil says helps the band members get their Merseyside accents – and wit — down perfectly.
“Doing this never gets old because each show is different and each audience is different,” McNeil said, adding that the band members use all the same type of instruments played by the original Fab Four.
The group pulls off an authentic, Beatles-eque sound through “the sound of the instruments and just years of playing their music, which we all love.”
McNeil says he’s proud of all The Fab Four has achieved – including winning an Emmy Award for their PBS special, filmed in 2012 at California’s Pechanga Resort & Casino, and being used as “body doubles” for the 2009 mega-popular music video game, “The Beatles: Rock Show.”
When asked why he thinks The Beatles remain as popular today as they were 50 years ago, McNeil says the answer is two-fold: “Their music is incredible and the songs are about love and peace … so you’ve got songs people absolutely still love about topics they care deeply about – and always will.”
If you go
The Fab Four performs at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, April 10 at the Scottish Rite Auditorium, 315 White Horse Pike, Collingswood. Tickets are $29 to $45. Go towww.ticketmaster.com or call 800-745-4000 or at the Box Office (856-858-1000). For more information on the band, visit: www.thefabfour.com
By: Nicole Pensiero, for the Courier Post