“Fab Four Mania”

"It seems we kill off our heroes," Ron McNeil says in the guise of John Lennon, from the stage of the Sahara.

It’s a sincere moment in "Fab Four Mania," so it’s admittedly cheap to take it out of context and ask, "What city is he in?"

But it’s hard to deny that the death of a pop hero is almost invariably followed by eternal life on the Strip as a tribute show.

"Fab Four Mania," a scrappy little revue that’s hung around in various forms since 2002, now labors in the shadow of the Beatles-sanctioned "Love." The Beatles show shares the Sahara’s theater with an Elvis tribute act, Trent Carlini, who in 2009 will be dealing with a Cirque du Soleil salute to Elvis Presley.

The Sahara show has so far trumped "Fab Forever," which recently threw in the towel downtown at the Four Queens. However, that show’s producer, Jerry Peluso, maintains "There’s seriously enough Beatle business to go around."

"Fab Four Mania" is at least durable enough to bounce from a big stage (the Las Vegas Hilton) to a smaller one (the V Theater) and back to a larger one at the Sahara, which has a genuine Beatles connection: The band stayed there in August 1964 after performing at the Convention Center.

The move doesn’t change things much, beyond adding more dramatic lighting, two more go-go girls and a couple of scenery pieces. Producer David Saxe says he plans to beef up the production value to better fill the stage; perhaps a whole "Yellow Submarine" number with the cartoon sub floating overhead.

For now, the group’s strength remains more in its meticulous attempt to duplicate the Beatles’ studio sound live, balanced by a little jokey showmanship and the fun idea of having an Ed Sullivan impressionist (Paul Terry) tie it all together.

The Sahara theater opened by magician Steve Wyrick in 2000 has never enjoyed a runaway hit, but it finally has a show that sounds great in the room. The group stresses — via a recorded intro from Penn Jillette — that every note is played live.

That stretches even to the George Martin arrangements never done in concert by the real band. The Fab Four evidently figure that if John Paul Jones played synthesizer in concert for Led Zeppelin’s "Kashmir," Lennon and George Harrison might have done the same for "A Day in the Life."

The quartet’s wigs become progressively more realistic after the melted globs affixed to their heads in the early ’60s segment give way to the psychedelic "Sgt. Pepper" and hippie-era "Let It Be" segments.

Having the Lennon character (at some point after press night, founding member McNeil yielded the role to Steve Craig) stretch to the solo years for "Imagine" gives him a gravity never quite matched by Frank Mendonca as a baby-faced Paul McCartney. Gavin Pring is more convincing, albeit with less to do, as George Harrison. Tony Felicetta smiles a lot as Ringo Starr, but at least brings good attitude.

If "Fab Forever" stages a comeback, it promises to change the set list each night and push the Sahara group to shake up a show that’s so far treated as rigidly as a Broadway musical, down to the last joke.

Change could be good for repeat business anyway, and the lads shouldn’t forget their base. Authenticity in areas the band cares about — Frank Mendonca playing left-handed bass as Paul McCartney — is balanced by the informal wise-cracking ("That’s our host, Mr. Ed") that appeals to casual fans while winking at Beatlemaniacs to enjoy the show for what it is, rather than obsess about what it’s not.

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or (702) 383-0288.

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