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Guaranteed to raise a smile

At least if you like your Beatles power-popped by Cheap Trick (with a little help from their friends)

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Photo: Bill Hughes

They’re painting the room, in a colorful way …

Cheap Trick and many valuable friends are performing some of the best music ever to emanate from the Hilton Theater with their treatment of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. The show is titled Sgt. Pepper Live Featuring Cheap Trick, a blast-from-the-present showcase in which no artistic expense was spared to re-create The Beatles’ inventive masterpiece from the summer of ’67.

A full orchestra, dubbed the Sgt. Pepper Symphony, and a sextet of background vocalists have been recruited for the stage production. Even a sitar band, populated by more accomplished sitar players (four) than you might expect in a Vegas hotel-casino production, has been assembled for the concert for the trippy “Within You Without You.” Joan Osborne is among the guest vocalists. Other effective guests include vocalist Ian Ball of British indie-rock band Gomez, former Beatlemania cast member Rob Laufer and the man Rick Nielsen calls “the Paul Shaffer of the guitar” for his encyclopedic rock knowledge, Bill Lloyd.

The Details

Sgt. Pepper Live Featuring Cheap Trick
Four stars
September 17-19, 21-23
8 p.m., $65-$95
Las Vegas Hilton Theater, 732-5755

For more than 30 minutes, this collective keeps the audience rapt before the featured performers are heard from, starting with an orchestral medley: “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “She Loves You,” “Love Me Do” and “Please Please Me.” Osborne follows with “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “The Long and Winding Road” (the production’s chief irony, as the song is given the Phil Spector-ized lush orchestral treatment that Paul McCartney detested on Let it Be). A highlight of the early stretch is the Ball-fronted “I Am the Walrus,” the orchestra re-creating that song’s drug-inspired soundscape (it almost makes you want to drop acid and pick up a cello). Another inspired moment: Laufer’s turn with the Clark County Children’s Choir on “Across the Universe.”

But the show shifts into overdrive when Cheap Trick hits the stage, making its appearance through three revolving doors on the two-tiered set, and vaults into the album’s title track. For the next 45 minutes, the audience is spirited away with familiar songs given fresh punch. Nielsen, the band’s famously manic guitarist, warned beforehand of what wouldn’t be depicted onstage—full Sgt. Pepper costumes and Beatle wigs, for starters. Even so, the band manages to evoke the music’s visual imagery. On opening night, Nielsen showed up in a black-and-red-striped suit with a guitar painted with portraits of The Beatles from Sgt. Pepper’s inner sleeve. Vocalist Robin Zander modeled a white satin military jacket with red-sequined trim and a white hat with a silver star set in the middle. Bassist Tom Petersson took on a blazing purple jacket.

But the music is the draw, and even with some opening-night missteps (the choir could barely be heard, and at times Nielsen’s guitar and even the orchestra were overpowered by the vocals), the band provided the songs new life. Few productions could pull off the wide-ranging four-song string of “Fixing a Hole,” “She’s Leaving Home,” “Within You Without You” and “Being for the Benefit of Mr. Kite!” This one does, remarkably. Because Pepper is but a single album and not lengthy enough to carry a full-scale concert, Cheap Trick adds the closing medley from Abbey Road and an all-hands-on-deck rendition of “All You Need Is Love” to finish the performance. The feeling around the Hilton is this show would be a fitting replacement if current theater resident Barry Manilow doesn’t renew his contract, which ends in December. Even with Cirque’s Love in place at The Mirage, there seems to be enough artistic disparity for both to coexist in Vegas.

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