THEATRE: Chris Wynters plays John in Four Lads Who Shook the World

Chris Wynters – Captain Tractor dude, open stage maven and all around musical theatre-type guy – claims that for the first 12 years of his life he listened to nothing but the Beatles. All Beatles, all the time.

And now he gets to be one of them for the next three months. How sweet is that? Wynters plays John Lennon in the world premiere of the original musical Four Lads Who Shook the World, playing through Nov. 6 at the Mayfield Dinner Theatre.

“It’s so awesome,” Wynters says. “I remember the first song I ever learned how to sing was Help! when I was 8 years old. I used to sing that song 100 times a day. I just kept doing it over and over again, and now I get to sing that song at the top of Act 2. The music is so good. It’s great to have 40 great songs to sing. It’s like being in the best band in the world. Actually, it is the best band in the world.”

He’s really, really into the Fab Four. You’d have to be to pull off a role like this. He and his fellow Lads (Kevin Dabbs as Paul, Harley Symington as George and Bob Rasko as Ringo) are portraying the Beatles from the early days of the Hamburg clubs to being in the vanguard of the British Invasion that – warning: title of play coming – SHOOK THE WORLD.

“These are iconic figures,” Wynters says. “Everyone knows what they look like, everyone knows what they sound like. You really have to get into the characters, but you also have to be yourself, you have to be real.”

He says that the 1994 feature film Backbeat – which followed the Beatles before they were the Beatles – did a remarkable job of capturing the spirit of the band and the times, the punk rock of its day, while still offering an original take on the story. For the Four Lads Who Changed the World, Wynters says he watched the films Hard Day’s Night and Help! at least 15 times each to further prepare himself to be John, working hard to perfect his Liverpudlian accent while he learned to play all those songs. It helped that Wynters, a professional musician who already knows lots of Beatles songs, was born in the U.K., and that his father-in-law, who actually saw the Beatles perform several times in the early days, “talks like Ringo.”

For extra authenticity, all the musician-actors in this show will be playing their own guitars and singing their own vocals. No lip-syncing. Even the tiniest technical details haven’t been overlooked. Wynters will be playing a six-string Rickenbacker guitar through an authentic Vox AC 30 amplifier, the same rig John Lennon used back in the day. It’s not merely a treat for the guitar geeks. “It’s the sound,” Wynters says. “Nothing sounds like a Rickenbacker through an AC 30.”

While the main focus of Four Lads Who Shook the World is the music, there’s a fast-paced story to go with it, one we all know: a whirlwind rock ‘n’ roll adventure – complete with the famous appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show and American live debut at Shea Stadium. A wall of video screens and some clever production tricks will take care of the hordes of screaming girls, among other things.

There is simply too much music and too much story here to fit into a single production. So this is just Part 1. Part 2 – covering Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band onward – will premiere at the Mayfield next fall. Anyone know someone who would make a good Yoko?