Return with us now to mid-January 1964, when America was still reeling from the assassination of President Kennedy. On January 10th, perhaps the most significant album of the 20th century was released in America by a a rhythm-and-blues label, Vee-Jay, which grabbed it when Capitol passed. Scan the Billboard Hot 100 Singles chart for that week to discover the most memorable songs in its top 10 were “Louie Louie” and “Surfin’ Bird.” Everything changed a week later — because that when Introducing the Beatles landed its lead single, “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” in the No. 45 slot. The week after that, it hit No. 3. Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones launched the first tour they ever headlined, and American Bandstand made a fateful move from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. The British Invasion of American airwaves had officially begun. It would dominate pop culture for years, if not decades, to come.
Cream. Herman’s Hermits. The Hollies. The Kinks. The Moody Blues. Dusty Springfield. The Who. The Zombies. The hits just kept coming, and by early April the Fab Four had released half the top 10. British artists added texture to rock and roll, revitalizing its flagging sales almost overnight. Life magazine attributed a mania for “almost anything labeled British” to the movement, from Julie Andrews to Mod miniskirts to James Bond. British musicians were accused of appropriating the sound and feel of Black artists, but they may also have contributed to the concurrent rise of Motown. Given that February 2022 charts were topped by the likes of Adele, Elton John and Ed Sheeran, one could argue the movement never ended.
Coming soon to The Washington Center for the Performing Arts is a touring tribute show, The British Invasion — Live on Stage, which includes Shannon McEldowney on keyboards and vocals alongside six other onstage performers. McEldowney was born in North Bend, Washington, between Seattle and the foothills of the Cascades. OLY ARTS made her acquaintance her via email. “After graduating from Mount Si High School in Snoqualmie,” she wrote, “I moved to Chicago to pursue my theater degree and have lived there ever since.” Her work in TRU earned her a Best Lead Actor nomination at the Chicago Musical Theatre Festival. “I first auditioned for The British Invasion via video,” she continued. “I sent in clips of myself singing songs from the show and playing piano. A few months later, the casting director flew me out to New York City, where I got to audition for the production team in person, and the rest is history.”
The life of a touring performer is unfamiliar to many actors, even some with the level of regional success McEldowney already enjoyed. We asked about her daily routine. “We have a fantastic crew and production team,” she replied, “that help make our days run smoothly. After performances, the rest of the cast and I shower up and get our costumes (and) belongings loaded back onto the tour bus. While we do that, our amazing crew breaks down the set, lights, sound equipment and instruments into our tow trailers. Everyone crashes in their bunks, our awesome bus drivers drive overnight, and then we wake up in the next city. The cast and I explore the towns if we can, often searching for a music store or the town’s best breakfast sandwich; practice our instruments or jam together. We’re currently in a country music phase. We (do a) sound check in the afternoon, and then pretty soon it’s time to get ready for the show again. It’s a dream come true.”
Is there a song in the show she finds particularly difficult to play or sing? “I think it can be difficult to replicate the sound of some Petula Clark or Dusty Springfield tunes,” she said, “as the originals are so rich with orchestral moments or big horn sections and we are a smaller band, but we definitely make it work. This band works so well together. It is full of super smart musicians that really understand and respect this era of music.” Those other musicians, all of whom sing as well, are Brittneyann Accetta on keyboards, bassist Jonah Bobo, guitarists Teddy Grey and Tanner Hake, drummer Billy Harrington and guitarist Martín Martiarena.
“Effective March 16, we will no longer be requiring proof of vaccination (and a) negative test for ticket holders,” said Jill Barnes, executive director of The Washington Center. “Mask will be encouraged, though not required.” We asked Barnes, a talented singer herself, which songs or acts she hopes will be included in the program. “Oh,” she replied, “there are so many songs that I would love to hear performed live: ‘Lola’ by the Kinks, ‘Space Oddity’ by David Bowie, any number of hits from Cream and the Rolling Stones, ‘Here Comes the Sun’ by The Beatles. I’d be remiss not to mention at least one female performer, Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son of a Preacher Man.’ “
We asked Shannon McEldowney if there’s a song she herself would love to add to the set list. “We’d have to change history for this to be possible,” she admitted, “as the Invasion started to fade before their peak, but we are dying to do some Led Zeppelin. Without changing history, though, I’d add Dusty Springfield’s rendition of ‘I Can’t Hear You’ or one of my favorite Beatles classics, ‘Love Me Do.’ ” Reviews of the show suggest it’s light on Beatles tunes, perhaps because that material is so well-covered by other tribute acts. Instead, the set list diversifies its offerings to include The Animals, Dave Clark 5, The Kinks, Springfield and the Stones among many others. It’s a fully costumed, multimedia production that promises to, in the words of the company website, “recreate the era’s excitement, fashion and headlines.” Blimey!
Photo credits: Timothy Norris.
The British Invasion — Live on Stage
7:30 p.m. Friday, April 1
The Washington Center for the Performing Arts,
512 Washington St. SE, Olympia