Paul McCartney and John Lennon Are "Here Today" in New Beatles Play Only Yesterday
Playwright Bob Stevens imagines a night in the life of two music icons in a new comedy at 59E59 Theaters.
One of my favorite lesser-known Paul McCartney songs is called "Here Today," written in response to the assassination of his friend and former bandmate John Lennon. It's a wistful ballad, filled with questions that McCartney can only imagine the answer to: "And if I say I really knew you well, what would your answer be?" Not many people are familiar with the song, but nary a McCartney concert goes by where he doesn't perform it.
I've always been fascinated by "Here Today." Whenever I hear McCartney sing it, it feels like an open wound that still hasn't healed. All this time, I thought I was pretty much alone in my curiosity — and then I saw the new play Only Yesterday at 59E59 Theaters. Written by Bob Stevens, a former producer on TV shows like Malcolm in the Middle and The Wonder Years, Only Yesterday visualizes one of the verses of "Here Today" and constructs a 70-minute play around it: "What about the night we cried? Because there wasn't any reason left to keep it all inside."
This sweet comedy imagines a day in the life of the two young superstars in 1964. A hurricane is rattling its way through Florida. Lennon (Christopher Sears) and McCartney (Tommy Crawford) are holed up in a motel room in Jacksonville, where their first American tour makes an unscheduled stop because of the weather. Outside, the fans are howling as loud as the wind. Inside, the twentysomething performers are tired of the long haul across the States and itching to go back home.
Exploring the bond shared through music (Crawford and Sears play a variety of songs live, none of which were written by Lennon and McCartney) and the deaths of their mothers, Only Yesterday doesn't get at anything too heady. It's not a vigorous character study of these two guys, and it doesn't provide any new insights into their friendship or artistic process. But Stevens isn't attempting to create a psychological study of what made two of the Beatles tick; in fact, he and director Carol Dunne have a very clear sense of what the play is and isn't. They're keenly aware that it's Beatles fan fiction, and they treat it as such.
Because of that, and the fact that Crawford and Sears are so wonderfully charming, Only Yesterday is an enthralling experience that allows us to revel in our own memories of how much we, too, love the Beatles. Sears is particularly likable as the mischievous Lennon, always smiling with a Cheshire cat grin and a twinkle in his eye. That look is specifically apparent, and thoroughly charming, when Lennon deals with Shirley Knapp (Olivia Swayze), a teenage Beatles fan who didn't come in through the bathroom window, but got stuck in the air vent of their motel room (which is designed with an impeccable eye for detail by Michael Ganio). Christopher Flockton rounds out the company as their nameless road manager.
Ultimately, this production of Vermont's Northern Stage theater company is geared toward the Beatles superfans among us. I walked out wondering what McCartney would think of it. And then I wondered what kind of music Lennon would be making in 2019. If only he were here today.