Sept. 27--Andy Nagle had "never heard of tributes." Alexander Jon didn't know who Brian Epstein was. The Beatles' "Yellow Submarine" sounded like a children's song to Jon.
Now, they're theatrical experts on those subjects as creator and narrator of "In My Life -- A Musical Theatre Tribute to the Beatles."
Among 600 U.S. "tribute" shows built around the culture-shifting music and lifestyle of the quartet from Liverpool, England, Nagle is "fairly confident" no other frames the story through the recollections and narration of Epstein, who discovered, sculpted and managed the pop-rock group into a global phenomenon that still resonates.
They'll stage the 165-minute show -- with a Long Beach-based band (Abbey Road) playing 33 Beatles songs -- Saturday at Stockton's Bob Hope Theatre.
"It's fantastic," said Jon, 26, who delivers the dialogues of Epstein (1934-67). "It's the best experience I've had personally and professionally. (Epstein) gets up and tells his story: 'Here's the way I saw it.' We do kind of flashbacks to those moments. It's definitely told through his eyes."
The musicians were picked from 220 "natural mimics," in Nagle's assessment, during initial auditions in Long Beach. As the cast, script and production have evolved since 2007 -- this is the third alignment -- only Axel Clarke (as drummer Ringo Starr) remains. Chris Paul Overall portrays bassist Paul McCartney, Gregory Wilmot plays guitar as John Lennon. Jesse Wilder plays guitarist George Harrison.
Jon and Nagle weren't exactly Beatles obsessives.
Nagle, 59, was an insurance litigator and volunteer producer trying to help sustain the La Habra Depot Theatre when he developed a case of "Beatlemania" six years ago.
"One of the theater kids said their dad was in a Beatles tribute," Nagle said. "I'd never heard of tributes."
He checked it out and spent the next six months reading "every single" Beatles book available. Nagle "compiled the most accurate version of accounts" into a "little show."
"In My Life's" three-week run of 15 performances sold all 135 seats: "That had never happened." So did eight more. "I tried magic, Broadway, hypnotists. Nothing sold like this."
Positive newspaper reviews prompted other theater owners to approach Nagle about staging the show. He asked Tom Maher. former manager of Guns N' Roses, to join him in forming La Jolla Booking.
"I knew nothing about touring," said Nagle. whose Beatles show now travels California and the country with his two daughters helping out. Jon has helped enable Nagle's vision.
"We had an internal debate over who was the 'fifth' Beatle," said Nagle, whose first Epstein was from Liverpool. "Brian really was. We look at it through his point of view. The biggest challenge was, he was pretty stuffy. He was very boring in interviews. It was too dry. We punched it up."
Jon, who's also acting in a play ("The Last Five Years") in Lake Arrowhead, started at zero with Epstein.
"I really researched him and tried to break down who this guy was," Jon said. "Prior to this, I didn't know anything about his story. The more I learned, the more intrigued I became. How many things had to line up for this to happen?"
In 1961, Epstein, from the posher part of Liverpool, "discovered" the Beatles playing raunchy rock 'n' roll in black motorcycle jackets as teenage girls swooned and screamed in Liverpool's dank Cavern Club. He polished up their image and helped them get to the very top.
"In My Life" focuses on the landmark episodes and avoids the tawdriness -- Epstein "dies" in the production -- that then afflicted closeted homosexuals in England.
Growing up in his native Minneapolis, Minn., "I really was huge into pets. Turtles, frogs, buckets of snakes," said Jon, whose given surname is Richardson. "I had more snakes than any human being should have in one place."
John, his dad, was a beer-truck driver who toured in a rock band. Mom Debrah worked for an electric company. His twin brother and two older siblings weren't musical.
"I didn't start singing until 10th grade," Jon said. "It's just something I wanted to do. It wasn't God-given talent. I put a lot of hours and work into getting better and better."
During a year at Boston's Berklee School of Music, "something didn't resonate." So he returned to his hometown McPhail Center for the Arts and kept working at his craft.
"Looking back, I know it wasn't good," he said of his initial acting monologue. "I had no real idea what acting was. It was an insult to any actor on the planet."
His vocal apprenticeship wasn't much more empowering: "I was very, very, very bad. But I really wanted to get good. So I pushed and pushed at it."
After doing productions in Minneapolis and Medora, N.D., Jon traveled around Europe for a year ("exploring myself") before joining his brother in Los Angeles.
A Simi Valley production of "Carmen" was encouraging, but "I've blocked out the memory" of an attempt to re-create "The Godfather" in a Los Angeles stage production.
Then he answered an "In My Life" casting notice. He's been doing Brian Epstein monologues for a year.
Ironically, "Yellow Submarine" isn't part of the song list.
Contact reporter Tony Sauro at (209) 546-8267 or email@example.com.
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