by ROSE BRENNAN & ALEXA SCHMIDT, Editor & Asst. Editor
“It Was Twenty 50 Years Ago Today…”
In celebration of one of history’s most iconic rock albums’ 50th anniversary, 13 Manhattan College students performed The Beatles’ “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” album from start to finish from April 26-28.
The performance was the “final exam” of a class surrounding the theory and practice of the album itself, taught by Andrew Bauer, director of performing arts at Manhattan College.
The class is the second of its kind in the college’s history. The first occurred last spring, when Bauer’s inaugural class performed “Abbey Road.”
“I knew I wanted to do another album class before the end of the semester last year, when I was in the middle of teaching ‘Abbey Road,’” Bauer said. “There was just such a positive response to it and, even the class created this buzz among the other students. And people had ideas.”
“I was pretty much set on teaching a class called ‘Tapestry’ […] But then, over the summer, really through talking with David Cartolano, it just seemed more appropriate that celebrating the 50th year of Sergeant Pepper’s. We would never going to get another chance to celebrate the 50th anniversary of that album,” Bauer said.
While the classes were of the same concept and style, they were wildly different in terms of just about everything else. Bauer and the class faced unique challenges with “Sergeant Pepper” that they did not experience while learning about “Abbey Road.”
“[The Beatles] did not intend to do [“Sergeant Pepper”] live, ever. There was never any thoughts of doing it live. It was a studio project; it was a work of art that they did in the studio that would be listened to on your stereo or enjoyed, but not to be performed live. Just not in any way technically possible,” Bauer said. “But now with the advent of computers and software and software […] and sound effects, the ability to use a keyboard to trigger all kinds of different things, we can. We can now do it live.”
The uniqueness of “Sergeant Pepper” extended beyond the performance and onto the set, located in the Black Box Theater. If the audience was expecting the “stripped down” variety of performance the class of “Abbey Road” performed last year, they would be sorely mistaken. Last year, there was no set, the class dressed entirely in black and performed the music solely as it was.
But with “Sergeant Pepper”, the Black Box Theater was transformed into a sixties bachelor pad, complete with tapestries, incense and psychedelic lighting. The students in the class also dressed the part as well: floral print, overalls and flower crowns galore.
“Sergeant Pepper” is junior Alex Constantine’s first album class at MC. He joined the class at the request of Bauer, though it certainly helped that he was a lifetime Beatles fan as well. Constantine’s experience with the class was a bit different, since he is not usually a part of the performing arts department.
“I love singing and I love playing music, but that only started relatively recently. So I know nothing about technical music. Like I don’t know note for note,” Constantine said. “So I have to do harmonies on this, and from the first class, I was so afraid to do harmonies and stuff. I felt so uncomfortable. And all the way until now, I just feel super comfortable performing and singing.”
Even though Constantine has always been a Beatles fan, even he picks favorites from the album.
“My favorite piece is definitely ‘[A] Day in the Life.’ It’s either that or the Sergeant Pepper intro, because I get to scream, and I love screaming that song,” he said.
Since Constantine was fairly new to music theory, the experience of performing a complex and intricate album such as “Sergeant Pepper” could be daunting. But Constantine said that he received a little help from his friends.
“My favorite part of this process [was] probably getting closer with the people in the class. I kind of came in here, and a lot of them are already performing arts music kids, and so I’m doing this almost for fun…and I’m like, ‘Oh, God, I gotta keep up with them. But they’ve all helped me learn how to really nail my notes,” he said.
“The process was definitely a lot. But it was always fun. We were always having fun because we were always doing what we love,” junior Erin Plitt said. “It felt more like a bunch of us getting together to hang out, because we’re all very close with Andy, just to jam. And it turned into something that’s presentable which is really great.”
“We Hope You Will Enjoy the Show”
Even before the doors were set to open for “Sergeant Pepper’s” Friday night show, a crowd with students, faculty and even alumni had amassed outside of the theater. Once the room was filled to absolute capacity, the stage was set and the show was about to begin.
The students took to the stage in similar attire to those who had performed “Abbey Road” the year before, and with little hesitation, sophomore Christopher Nuzzo launched into the first two songs of the evening: “Strawberry Fields Forever” and “Penny Lane.”
As soon as the final note of “Penny Lane” rang out over the audience, the students in the class darted off the stage, clearing it for Bauer. Bauer explained that they chose to perform those two songs because they were originally intended to be on the album, but corporate America was hungry for The Beatles. Thus, the songs were released as a double A-side single.
Bauer then explained that the performance was the class’s “final exam.” If that was true, what followed was certainly the most fun anyone ever had taking a final.
During Bauer’s monologue, the students were suiting up for the rest of the show, and when they emerged again, they were decked out in full-on flower child regalia. As they took the stage, sound wizard Bryan Smyth played the opening sounds from Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The band joined in and Constantine screamed the lyrics, welcoming the audience into the second, more elaborate part of the show.
The song quickly transitioned into Ringo Starr’s “With a Little Help from My Friends,” sung to perfection by Smyth. After the song finished and Smyth retreated back to the sound board, the crowd was truly immersed into the psychedelic world of 1967. Colored lights adorned the stage and while Constantine sang “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds,” other students scattered throughout the room to blow bubbles into the crowd.
The relaxing ambience was soon shattered by Nuzzo, who sang Lennon-McCartney’s upbeat “Getting Better.” Nuzzo certainly gave a theatrical performance, complete both in actions and the gorgeous set he designed.
The happiness of “Getting Better” was then toned down by Plitt, who sang the melancholy “She’s Leaving Home.”
“‘She’s Leaving Home’, which I was lucky enough to lead on, has a very special place in my heart. That’s a very meaningful song for me personally, so I love that song,” Plitt said.
Following Plitt’s solo, Constantine again took to the stage for a more psychedelic song: “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite.” Once again, the audience was plunged into a world of theatrics, particularly with the lyrics, “And of course, Henry the Horse dances the waltz,” in which six of the students promptly began waltzing with each other in the following musical interlude.
But the trippy nature of the show certainly did not stop there. For the following song, senior David Cartolano took the lead on George Harrison’s “Within You Without You.” The lighting changed to a deep red, and soon the scent of fog and incense filled the Black Box Theater. Yet in the hazy atmosphere, Cartolano’s voice came through loud and clear.
What followed next was a more upbeat song which was, of course, Nuzzo’s domain. He kept the audience laughing throughout “When I’m Sixty-Four,” going so far as to place Constantine on his knee to punctuate the lyric, “Grandchildren on your knee.”
At this point, it was high time for some girl power, and that is exactly what “Lovely Rita” ushered in, with lead sang by Ellen Farrelly, Kelsey Sullivan and Plitt, who donned a police cap in her role as Rita.
The show was soon to wind down, but the high energy of “Good Morning Good Morning” was no indication of that. Though Cartolano had lead vocal on the song, the entire class contributed to the shouts of “Good morning!” The penultimate song, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (Reprise)” began soon after, with Constantine wishing the audience well and saying goodbye on behalf of the band.
For those unfamiliar with the album, the song clearly would have been an indicator of the finale, but seasoned fans of The Beatles knew there was just one more song. That song, “A Day in the Life,” truly proved to be the showstopper of the evening. With Constantine and Nuzzo taking lead as John Lennon and Paul McCartney respectively, the lights, sound and were pushed to the absolute limit. And on the final chord of the song, every student onstage froze as the background noise played, with the colored lights from the booth raining down upon them.
The theater went dark and it took merely seconds before the audience got up from their seats and cheered in a roaring standing ovation.
“We’re Sorry, But It’s Time to Go”
Audience members were enthralled with the show, with many saying it improved upon last year’s “Abbey Road.”
“This album was much shorter, and I think it did go by a lot quicker, and I don’t know if it was because it was just so interactive, and so much more fun, than last year’s,” said sophomore Samuel Szabo, who attended the performance. “Last year’s was amazing as well, because I knew more of the songs from ‘Abbey Road,’ but this one I didn’t know many of the songs, because I didn’t really listen to the album as much, and it just really piqued my interest to actually listen to the album now and compare the way they performed it with the original.”
Nicholas Guttilla, a junior, was also in awe of the performance.
“I thought the show was absolutely phenomenal. From the props, the whole aesthetic, the whole setup, not to mention obviously the music, was amazing,” he said.
“It’s awesome that this is a class that you can literally take on campus and do for fun. And a lot of the singers and musicians really like The Beatles, so it’s cool because you can take your interest and put it into the actual class and it counts for your GPA,” he said.
One notable audience member was MC performing arts alumni George Schlinck. Schlinck was a part of the “Abbey Road” album class last spring, and got to experience another from the outside.
“The first thing I can say is I need to bury my head in shame,” he said. “It was too good. It was so, so good. The music, most of all, but the lights, the design, everything was absolutely perfect.”
“I would really love to see more classes like this. I know that in the past, [Bauer] has talked about doing ‘Tapestry’ by Carole King. I’d love to see ‘Rumours’ by Fleetwood Mac. But I’d love to see more stuff like this, but it really seems like the program’s in good hands,” Schlinck said. “There’s a lot of talent and I’m really super proud of what they’ve put together.”
Editor’s note: Christopher Nuzzo is a staff writer for The Quadrangle.