In the summer of 1967, tens of thousands of people descended on the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco in a hippie revolution. They played music, they took drugs, they practiced sexual freedom, and they preached political rebellion. That same summer, race riots broke out in Newark, New Jersey, and Detroit, Michigan, leaving nearly 70 people dead and hundreds injured. And also that same summer, half the world away in Liverpool, England, the BBC approached four young musicians with a special request: to write a piece of music that would be broadcast live on television in 26 countries around the world. Those musicians were John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, and the song they came up with was the iconic ’60s anthem, “All You Need Is Love.”
This weekend, that song and other Beatles hits will be performed in Santa Barbara in an unusual and ambitious stage production. LoveLoveLove is a Valentine’s Day tribute to the Beatles featuring dancers from State Street Ballet (SSB) and musicians and vocalists from the Santa Barbara Choral Society (SBCS). Also taking the stage will be “the fifth Beatle,” George Martin, legendary producer of the band and the man who played piano for and arranged many of their greatest hits.
LoveLoveLove is a wide-ranging production, both in terms of artistic genres and historical references. The show moves from classical to contemporary music, beginning with a foxtrot set to Gershwin’s “Embraceable You” and ending with a medley of Beatles songs arranged by Santa Barbara composer Stephen Dombek. In between, SSB dancers will perform a classical pas de deux and an excerpt from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Martin, now 84, will conduct the Choral Society in a new arrangement of “Eleanor Rigby,” as well as in the world premiere of his own work, The Mission Chorales.
The unifying message tying this show together is love, and although they may not carry quite the revolutionary zeal of the ’60s, the show’s many collaborators bring a spirit of appreciation and devotion to this production. Choral Society member and former 3rd District Supervisor Brooks Firestone explained how his friendship with Martin led to this unprecedented opportunity for SBCS. “About 30 years ago, Martin wrote the score for a movie called The Mission,” Firestone explained. “When the film went bankrupt, the score was shelved. A couple of years ago, I asked him whatever happened to that beautiful music. He said, ‘It’s in my drawer.’ I said, ‘George, wouldn’t you like to have that sung?’ He agreed to allow us to perform it. The Choral Society is just so delighted and honored.”
Nearly 120 singers will take the stage for this portion of the production. SBCS Director JoAnne Wasserman explained of The Mission Chorales, “It’s scored for strings and solo oboe, and also calls for a soprano soloist. It’s written in Latin; it’s beautiful, and very melodic.” Like Firestone, Wasserman was full of praise for her collaborators and excitement about the scope of the show. “We really love to collaborate with the ballet,” she enthused. “We’re creating something memorable together.”
William Soleau, who choreographed SSB’s last coproduction with SBCS, Carmina Burana, has selected seven Beatles songs for his 25-minute ballet, which comes at the end of the program. Included in the medley are the classic tunes “Help” and “In My Life.” “I wanted to stick with songs written between 1965 and 1969,” Soleau explained. “I thought about what was going on in America when these songs were playing on the radio—the race riots and the Vietnam War demonstrations.” By setting the ballet’s story in Southern California, Soleau feels he’s giving Santa Barbara audiences a personal connection to the larger theme. “All the costume ideas, pictures, and images we used as guides came from this area during that era,” he explained, adding, “It’s also fun and light. You can’t go wrong with Beatles music.”
It may not rival Haight-Ashbury during the Summer of Love, yet like the Beatles’ music, this show’s themes are timeless: the human longing for connection and peace, the ability of art to transcend cultural and political divides, and, of course, the power of love.
LoveLoveLove takes place at the Granada Theatre on February 13 at 8 p.m. and February 14 at 2 p.m. For tickets or more information, call 899-2222 or visit granadasb.org.