A rock musical written, executive produced and starring powerhouse Anzu Lawson has just floored the Fringe Festival. Playing to sold-out houses at the Lillian Theatre in Los Angles, this historical journey illuminates John Lennon’s controversial love for Yoko Ono that riled and defined an era. Lawson’s powerful portrayal of Yoko parturitates understanding and empathy for this often misunderstood and condemned woman, finally answering the question, “Dear John, Why Yoko?”
Fourteen original songs (with music by Joerg Stoeffel and Anzu Lawson and lyrics by Anzu Lawson), serenade the audience through Yoko’s emotional reckoning and awakening love with Lennon- a common experience by two very uncommon people. Exciting group choreography, creative staging in the three-quarter theater and brilliant directing by Nell Teare brought the audience to their feet at the end of this musical that blew the doors off of the expectations of a mere Fringe Festival show.
The show begins behind a huge scrim utilizing filmed scenes of a young Yoko (Anzu’s actual adorable niece Kohana Porter) surviving the horrors that she saw during the 1930’s conflict in Japan, while the full cast of thirteen angrily belts the song “I Know War”. This early traumatic exposure instantly capitulates the audience into clarity for the strength of Yoko’s later artistic journey into her expressions for peace.
Lawson bares her soul (and her breast) as Yoko in her famous 1965 art exhibition “Cut Piece” as the cast snips off pieces of her clothing systematically. Rock & Roll’s Greatest Lovers next introduces the musical dynamism of the Beatles and then the moment when Yoko and John Lennon met at the preview of her art exhibit at the Indica Gallery in Mayfair London. Depicting a decomposing apple Yoko had listed for two hundred quid, (which to her consternation, Lennon actually picked up and took a bite out of), as well as her interactive art piece “Hammer a Nail”, Lennon truly connects with Yoko when he was prompted to negotiate an imaginary fee to be able to hammer an imaginary nail into the exhibit so as not to ruin it for the opening the next day.
Tom Mesmer is hip and powerful as John Lennon struggling to find himself and fight through his first marriage, the media, his band and his own demons to stay connected to Yoko. The song “She’s a Witch” highlights the verbal spears thrown at Yoko by Paul McCartney (the talented John Griffin) and the public who blatantly accuse her of causing the downfall of the Beatles.
Nothing could stop the soulful outpourings from the cast of Rock & Roll’s Greatest Lovers, not the late-comers rustling through the oversold theater nor the intermittent, yet unyielding popping sound coming from an overhead speaker left to die during the show at the Lillian Theater. It is a testament to the entire cast’s professionalism that not once did a performer wince or show any signs of the sabotaging speaker. And it is exactly that tenacity that kept the audience fighting to concentrate as well- always hoping, assuming, expecting and believing that someone from the Lillian would appear to find the source and cut a wire, smash a box or pull the whole electrical system, forcing the cast to sing a cappella. But no such luck. The constant popping later tricked my mind into thinking that perhaps it was the shot that killed John Lennon being played over and over throughout the musical as a symbolic reference to his light so easily and tragically dampened.
Yoko needs to see this award-worthy creation, already configured for bigger stages, for herself. Empathy for Yoko Ono has not come easily to the public but in the hands of Anzu Lawson and Rock & Roll’s Greatest Lovers it is effortless.
Rock & Roll’s Greatest Lovers is currently crowd funding to bring the show to Broadway and the silver screen. For more information and to donate please go to: