Brian Epstein, the man who discovered and managed the Beatles, the most influential rock group in history and one of the dominant pop culture entities of the 20th century, can be considered one of the key global figures of the post-World War II era. “In My Life – A Musical Theatre Tribute to the Beatles” is a musical retelling of the iconic band’s story through the eyes of Epstein and features the live music of renowned tribute, Abbey Road. The award-winning production comes to the Bob Hope Theatre in Stockton on Saturday, September 28 at 8 pm.
As a lonely adolescent, Epstein longed to escape the dull, decaying town of Liverpool to make his mark in the arts and theater in glamorous London. However, his enrollment in the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts ended in failure and disappointment.
In 1957, while in London, he suffered the humiliation of an arrest for “importuning” (soliciting men for sex). Though he avoided prison, he remained traumatized by the ordeal. He was also discharged from the military after ten months for being “unfit” to serve - most likely his homosexuality, which remained a crime in England until one month after his death in 1967.
A defeated Epstein reluctantly returned to Liverpool to work at his family's furniture store and took over the small record department. To everyone’s surprise, he excelled.
It was from this shop that Brian set out on November 9, 1961, to catch the lunch hour show at a dingy, dank former vegetable cellar, The Cavern Club, a few hundred yards away. He made his way past a queue of teenage girls in beehives and boys in skin-tight drain-pipe trousers, and down 18 damp stone steps to check out four sweaty young men playing guitars and drums.
Epstein was at least six years older than any of the Beatles and lived in a different socio-economic and cultural sphere. He favored the finer arts like opera, theater and chamber music, not the simple, raucous rock 'n' roll that was sweeping across Britain at the time.
During the Beatles’ time in Hamburg, they began wearing black leather jackets and adopted a look that conveyed the casual charm of hoods on holiday. During shows, they drank, smoked cigarettes and spiced their stage banter with profanity.
“Against all odds, he was instantly charmed by what he saw on stage,” said Alxander Jon, who plays “Epstein” in the musical. “He then seized upon the idea of “cleaning up” the band and transforming them into something the world could embrace.”
Epstein had no experience managing entertainers and he did not he have any contacts in the music industry. However, the Beatles were desperate for someone to help them with their careers. Although they were the kings of Liverpool, but they were stuck in the UK's Merseyside County. In essence, Epstein and the group needed one another -- his eloquence, fine upper-class manners and wealth obviously impressed the Beatles, all of whom grew up in working-class environments.Within two years of first meeting Epstein, they were performing in collarless jackets and taking synchronized bows.
Everyone knows what happened next. Epstein landed them an audition with Parlophone, a small label under EMI, which led to the much-coveted recording contract. By the end of 1963, the Beatles were the hottest act in Britain, and, in the following year, they would become the most famous four people on the planet.
While he didn’t single-handedly invent rock management and promotion, Epstein clearly took the profession to previously unknown peaks with huge stadium concerts, global tours and publicizing his clients’ personalities, as well as their music.
Epstein had no musical talent of his own and he did not impart any influence on the Beatles' music, but it is safe to assume that if he had decided not to manage the Beatles, they would have never been unveiled to the outside world and society as we know it today might be quite different.
Over the next three years, as the Beatles' fame and public adulation escalated to unprecedented heights, Epstein, not even 30, attained a level of affluence and power he could not possibly have ever dreamed of.
However, riches and celebrity failed to soothe Epstein's fragile psyche. He managed the Beatles until his death at the age of 32 of a drug overdose.
“Epstein was a fascinating, complex figure who was a deeply troubled and insecure man who fought demons that ultimately ended his life in tragedy,” said Jon.”It is a challenge to play him,” he said.
Ironically, it was McCartney, not a great admirer of Epstein, who declared to the BBC: "If anyone was the fifth Beatle, it was Brian."
More than just a Beatles tribute concert, “In My Life” gives the audience a chance to “be there” at pivotal moments in the extraordinary career of the Beatles: Liverpool’s legendary Cavern Club, The Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, Abbey Road Studios and the final live performance on the rooftop of their Apple Corp offices. With Epstein serving as narrator, In My Life allows the audience to get a glimpse inside the world of the Beatles from their point of view, as well as hear some of the greatest songs ever written. Historical settings such as the Cavern Club are established on stage with videos and images which play behind the actors and musicians on a a video screen. The show has been touring for years and is widely considered by industry insiders to be the most unique Beatles show in decades.