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City Lights: APA tackles tough assignment

Performing arts students rehearse for presentation of the Beatles' White Album and all its imperfections.

November 05, 2013|By Michael Miller
  • Natalie Martz sings and plays guitar while Andrew Cochran puts down the bass lines as they play the second song on side three of The Beatles' White Album, "Yer Blues."
Natalie Martz sings and plays guitar while Andrew Cochran… (Don Leach, HB Independent )

I once met a woman who had known three of the Beatles as a college student in Liverpool. At least, so she said. Having a personal connection to the Fab Four is probably a favorite lie among the British. But her story seemed down-to-earth enough that I could go along with it.

In her telling, John Lennon had a reputation as a sardonic punk who browbeat local bartenders into giving him drinks. She remembered Paul McCartney for his "sickly gray complexion" and George Harrison for his ravishing good looks. (Ringo Starr hadn't entered the picture yet.)

Did they show signs of genius back then? "No!" the woman exclaimed. "They just struck me as puny little schoolboys. I never imagined they would be gods!"

Perhaps that was a riff on Lennon's famous comment about his band being bigger than Jesus, but the Beatles have indeed risen to a kind of godlike status — at least within pop culture. So when I heard that the Huntington Beach Academy for the Performing Arts was preparing to play the entire 1968 double disc "The Beatles" (known as the White Album because of its nearly blank cover) in concert, I wasn't surprised.

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But I wondered how the school would pull off a reenactment of the album, which easily tops the band's catalog in terms of oddities, spontaneous goofs and songs that, well, seem more like the work of schoolboys than gods.

Of all the Beatles' classics, none has earned more polarized opinions than the White Album, whose initial notices ran the gamut from "boring beyond belief" (the New York Times) to "a deluge of joyful music-making" (the Observer). AllMusic's review includes the words "frustratingly scattershot," "mess," "schmaltz," "canned," "silly," "lumbering" and "mess" again — then goes ahead and awards the album five out of five stars.

Every year, the school — which belongs to the Huntington Beach Union High School District and usually is referred to as APA — puts on a Beatles-themed show. It has played more cohesive works like "Rubber Soul" and "Revolver" from top to bottom.

When I visited the rehearsal at Huntington Beach High School last week, students and faculty were in the midst of polishing the White Album tracks — and, in some cases, that meant perfectly capturing the imperfect moments.

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