‘Shake it up, baby’

Tony Kishman and his Beatles tribute band Twist and Shout, will ‘come together’ as they perform in Israel next month.

Beatles tribute band Twist and Shout 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Beatles tribute band Twist and Shout 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Tony Kishman should have realized his mission in life back in the mid-1960s, when he brought in a Beatles 45 for a grade school show and tell and mimed Paul McCartney’s singing and playing.
But it took the Tuscon, Arizona native another decade or so until that childhood admiration and obsession with the famed Fab Four transformed into a durable career choice.
“I was playing guitar in a cover band in clubs in the 1970s, and we’d be doing the latest Peter Frampton song or whatever, and then we’d play a Beatles song,” recalled Kishman in a phone call from him home earlier this month. “Invariably, somebody would come up to me in between sets and say, ‘you know, when you were doing that Beatles song, you kind of looked like Paul.’ I was flattered, but didn’t really think anything of it at that point.”
However, in 1977, Kishman’s visual and aural similarities to McCartney prompted a friend to suggest that he audition for Steve Leber and David Krebs, the producers of a new Broadway show that was in the planning stages called Beatlemania.
“I flew out to LA and did my audition. The musical director said to me, you’re certainly good enough, you look enough like Paul and you have the vocal ability, so all you have to do is apply yourself and you have a spot in the show,” said Kishman.
Then the real work started as Kishman spent countless hours “becoming” Paul McCartney through grueling rehearsals, studying film clips of The Beatles in all their various stages, and adopting not only the musical tics and idiosyncrasies, but the physical ones as well.
The effort paid off, as Kishman, alongside future power pop star Marshall Crenshaw, were among the 50 musicians chosen to join one of the casts of the show.
For the next six years, he spent his waking hours as Paul, as the smash hit Beatlemania took off and moved from Broadway to stages around the world.
In the early 1980s, while performing with Beatlemania in London, Kishman looked out in the audience and saw, front and center, the striking white mane of George Martin, the legendary producer of The Beatles, who had brought his family to the show.
“I’m up there singing and I see his face – it was just amazing to me that he was there,” said Kishman.
“Afterwards, he came backstage and told us how much he enjoyed the show. I asked him why he, the producer of The Beatles, would come see Beatlemania when he had experienced the real thing.
“And he said, ‘I wanted to give my kids the opportunity to see what it was like, how The Beatles looked and how they performed.’ So here I am teaching George Martin’s kids about the Beatles – it was amazing.”
Following the successful six-year run, Kishman continued his own musical path, recording and performing original music and spending the next few years as a working musician.
But it turns out that playing Paul McCartney was his destiny. And for the past decade, he’s been leading what is generally considered to be one of the leading Beatles tribute bands in the world – Twist and Shout – in a multi-media musical extravaganza devoted to their career called “All You Need is Love.”
Israel has its own talented Beatles tribute band, the Magical Mystery Tour, who perform to enthusiastic crowds around the country. But “All You Need is Love” – featuring Jim Owen as John Lennon, Chris Camilleri as Ringo Starr and David John as George Harrison – takes the experience to another level.
Enhanced by video clips of The Beatles’ rich history, and wardrobe changes (as well as the appropriate hair pieces) reflecting their transformation from teen punks in Germany to riot-provoking mop-tops to psychedelic pioneers to bearded veterans, the show tells the chronological story of the band that changed the world.
“It’s a musical biography of The Beatles, starring Twist and Shout,” explained Kishman. “What we’re doing is telling the story of The Beatles, from the beginning.
We even have a performer playing Tony Sheridan [a British singer whom The Beatles back up in the studio in the early 1960s just before they hit it big in England] and we do a song with him. We show the audience how The Beatles became The Beatles.”
For a generation too young to have experienced the real thing, and even more so for those who lived through it, Twist and Shout is purported to capture the excitement and charisma of The Beatles in all their glory.
For Kishman, touring now on the cusp of the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ 1964 breakout in the US at the forefront of the British Invasion, provides an even notched-up level of excitement for both the fans and the band.
“When I first saw them on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, I was immediately hooked,” said Kishman. “I never realized though, back then, exactly how incredible they and the whole phenomenon was. Now, with the 50th anniversary coming, it’s astonishing to think of how amazing their music still is 50 years later.”
Although he professed to loving all of The Beatles’ music from “She Loves You” to “Let it Be,” Kishman admitted that his favorite period to listen to and to perform is later, more expansive Beatles of The White Album and Abbey Road.
“Just think of all those great songs they came out with then, and they weren’t even really functioning as a band,” said Kishman, adding that Martin had described to him how McCartney came into the studio with the others and single-handledly recorded “Back in the USSR.”
Kishman’s fixation on McCartney extends beyond Twist and Shout and “All You Need is Love.” Along with band mate Owen/Lennon, he founded and performs in a Beatles symphony show, Classical Mystery Tour. And he’s also developed and stars in Live and Let Die, in which he performs the solo material of McCartney backed by a symphony orchestra.
But his bread and butter remains Twist and Shout, and Israeli Beatle aficionados – which include former energy minister and current world chairman of Keren Hayesod, Eliezer (Moody) Sandberg, who hosts a weekly Beatles radio show on 88FM – will be able to judge the show’s Beatle-worthiness as Twist and Shout arrive for six performances next month – December 5, 6 and 7 at the Tel Aviv Opera House, December 9 at the Beersheba Center for Performing Arts, December 10 at Kibbutz Yagur and December 11 at the Jerusalem Theater.
When asked to explain the Beatles phenomenon and its enduring attraction, Kishman theorized that it all comes down to the music.
“There are lots of Beatles tributes out there, some very bad and some pretty good. But even with a really bad Beatles group – a short, little guy playing Paul, a tall, skinny John, just horrendous looking – as long as they’re playing Beatles music then people want to hear it,” he said.
“That’s because the music is timeless. Even when you hear their first album, it’s not dated. They’re a phenomenon we’ll never see again.”