Like most tribute bands, the Liverpool Legends hope to present a show so convincing that audiences might momentarily forget they hadn't stepped back in time to the 1960s, watching a performance of the original Beatles. What tribute band members didn't expect was that one of their own members would be fooled into thinking he was performing alongside one of the famed Fab Four.
That's exactly how Marty Scott felt about the group's Ringo Starr impersonator, Greg George. Scott portrays George Harrison in Branson, Mo., performances at Starlite Theatre.
Sure, Greg George, a.k.a. Ringo Starr, sports the signature bowl-cut hairdo and clothing of the Beatles era, but so do the other Beatles impersonators. Scott believes there's something special about their Ringo look-alike. In essence, the resemblance is uncanny. While Scott, the band's manager, along with George Harrison's sister, Louise, considered appearance when casting the band's members, they admit they outdid themselves in casting Ringo.
"I knew right away who we wanted," Scott said, when choosing members for the band, more than five years ago. Scott had seen George impersonate Ringo, and knew he had the look, right down to the former Beatle's famously large nose.
Louise Harrison agreed that George has become the iconic Ringo look-alike. "If people can find somebody who looks like Greg George, he's going to make a good Ringo," she said.
In fact, the resemblance is so uncanny that it used to cause Scott to forget sometimes. "I used to get nervous because I felt like Ringo was playing right behind me," Scott said of George, who beats out rhythms on the drum set toward the back of the stage.
But Liverpool's similarities to the Beatles don't stop with Ringo. Scott, who impersonates George Harrison, made a similar impression on Harrison's sister, Louise, when she heard an earlier tribute band in which Scott played. George had died only weeks before she caught Scott's band's act. Harrison admits she hadn't really yet grieved until she saw the band performing Beatles hits such as "Yellow Submarine" and "I Wanna Hold Your Hand."
"All of a sudden, the tears ran down my face," Louise Harrison remembered. "It just brought it all back to me so strong...I knew I'd never see George again."
Harrison said Scott's impression of her brother reaches beyond the stage. She describes Scott's personality as very kind and caring, just like her brother's.
"He's really taken over the place my brother had," Louise said of Scott. The two have become very close, despite the age difference. Harrison is 78, while Scott is much younger. But Harrison doesn't believe she and Scott met by chance..
"In a way I feel like he (George) was responsible...He instigated this. That way my brother's still able to look out after me."
In addition to her role in managing the Legends, Harrison introduces the band in film and answers questions in person during intermissions. Sometimes audiences question Louise's first memories of George as a newborn, describing his brown eyes and toothless appearance. Harrison said she's careful to protect her brother's privacy, never revealing much about his life prior to becoming a Beatle.
"It just seemed the least I could do," she explained.
However, when interviewed for this story, Harrison revealed that her entire family was musical, telling of their father singing solo as a boy at what would become the Anglican Cathedral in Liverpool. She also remembered standing between their father's knees as he played guitar.
Harrison married a Scottish-born engineer who took work in the United States, causing the couple to be living here when her famous brother's band first became popular in England. She helped start the Beatles' popularity in the States, doing publicity and promotion. She worked closely with Beatles manager Brian Epstein.
Looks aside, impersonating the Beatles isn't easy. After all, the group had more hits than any other songwriters in history. Liverpool performs two-hour shows, and the group refuses to use canned music and sound effects. Instead, they choose the much more difficult task of playing each show live, using vintage instruments. Not only do they perform each show live, the group also plays each song in Beatles style, right down to the left-handed bass guitar-playing of Paul McCartney..
"If you're going to impersonate Paul, you have to play left-handed," Scott said, referring to Robert Beahon, as Paul. The group also includes Kevin Mantegna as John Lennon, playing rhythm guitar. Keyboardist Bob Dobro also plays.
The group feels an obligation to perform as closely to the Beatles as possible.
"We don't take any liberties," Scott said. "If people are paying to see the concert...it's cheating to play off a track or tape. If we did that, people might as well go home and listen to a CD."
Scott said he sees Liverpool Legends performances as a mix of acting and impersonating, karaoke style.
This is the group's last season performing at Starlite, a 900-seat theater in Branson. Next season, which begins in the spring, Liverpool will perform in a larger venue, The Mansion, which seats about 2,500. Before then, the group will tour, performing in Chile, Canada, Texas and Oklahoma.
Liverpool, already popular with those who remember the Beatles, is attracting an ever-younger audience, including children as young as eight years old. Scott attributes that trend to a new video game, much like Guitar Hero, featuring all Beatles songs.
"You've got kids at our shows now singing along with grandparents," Scott said, adding that the Beatles are probably the only performers at Branson, or any other venue, that appeals to such a wide age range.
"There's really no other group that transfers down that way," Scott said.
The group even is able to re-create some of the hysteria that accompanied the Beatles 50 years ago, often bringing audience participation in the form of clapping, cheering, singing along, dancing or even, at times, crying.
"They (performances) evoke all kinds of emotions," Scott said. Harrison explained it this way: "Let's face it, so many who come to the show have so many memories. Everybody has stories about what the Beatles have meant in their lives."