Brothers who grew up in Columbus return to the Springer with an interactive Beatles show

sokamoto@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 1, 2013 

When Billy McGuigan was 10, he was heartbroken to find out that his family couldn't afford to enroll him in acting classes at the Springer Opera House.

Now, 28 years later, he's starring in a show on the Springer stage. He's the creator of "Yesterday and Today -- The Interactive Beatles Experience."

Performances are 7:30 p.m. March 1-2, March 7-9 and March 14-16; 2:30 p.m. March 10. It's on Mainstage. Tickets are $38; $32 for seniors; $25 for military, police officers, firefighters, EMS personnel and teachers; $15 for students through college with valid ID. Call the Box Office at 706-327-3688.

Last week at the 2013-14 season announcement, he took the stage as Buddy Holly. His original show, "Rave On! -- The Buddy Holly Experience," can be seen in October.

"It was a bit overwhelming," he said. "The last time I had performed in Columbus was in ninth grade in 1990 on the Spencer High School stage in 'You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown.' Seconds before I went on, that memory came rushing back. I wasn't nervous, per se, but the performance did feel a bit like an audition. I'm sure that was the feeling backstage. Am I going to clam up? Am I going to deliver?

"I can only hope that I delivered."

Paul Pierce, the Springer's artistic director, said he was electric.

"His personality leaps off the stage," Pierce said. "He has real, true, honest-to-goodness star power."

An Air Force brat, McGuigan was living at Fort Benning, where his father was stationed, from 1982-90. He attended White Elementary School, Faith Middle School and Spencer High.

He remembers his one year at Spencer fondly, especially his drama teacher Paul Hampton, who is now at Columbus High School.

"(Billy) was great," Hampton said. "I loved his energy. Everybody loved him because he was so fun to be around. He had a great personality. He was so talented, and then his family moved."

He said McGuigan played Linus in "You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown."

"It was the first big musical for me," said Hampton, who started teaching at Spencer in 1987.

Hampton will be taking his Columbus High students to see the show Thursday morning. "I'll wait and go with them," he said. "I cannot wait to see the show."

Like with other former students, Hampton keeps up with McGuigan on Facebook.

Learning Beatles songs

While the McGuigan family was stationed at Fort Benning, Billy McGuigan's father went to Korea. He missed him so much that he would get his father's guitar from under his bed and start playing it.

His father, Bill, was a huge Beatles fan. While his father was overseas, young Billy, now 38, began learning Beatles songs and soon taught his younger brothers, Ryan, 35, and Matthew, 32.

When their father got back, the McGuigans would spend Friday and Saturday nights singing and playing Beatles tunes in their living room.

The elder McGuigan died in 1996.

Naturally, when McGuigan was thinking of putting a show together, a Beatles show was perfect.

For seven years, the McGuigan brothers have been all over the country with their interactive show.

Pierce met McGuigan in Florida after being urged to go by Beau Bisson, a former Springer Theatricals tour manager. Bisson started his own company in New York and was booking shows for the Omaha Playhouse, where McGuigan was performing as Buddy Holly. He was working on the Beatles show at the time.

Pierce saw the Beatles show, where he said he sat with tears rolling down his face.

"Billy comes out and says they are not the Beatles, but that they are Beatles fans just like the audience," Pierce said. Pierce said that also lets the audience off the hook so they don't have to compare the guys on stage to the Beatles.

Besides, relatively few people ever saw the Beatles live in the first place, Pierce said. Most of their music is known through the recordings.

An interactive experience

Before each show, audience members are given a slip of paper. On the paper, they write their favorite Beatles tune and what the song means to them.

About 10 minutes before the show, the papers are delivered backstage, where the band decides which songs to do that night.

"We read the stories from the stage," McGuigan said. "We have a conversation with the person and then we play the song."

Two weeks ago in Florida he read a note from a woman whose favorite song is "In My Life," which she had played at her husband's funeral earlier in the week.

"It makes the shows special," he said.

He said he often tears up on stage, reading the stories. His brothers call him the sappy one of the family.

"It's a different show every night," he said.

Of course, there are some in the audience who love to try to "stump the band," by asking for an obscure song. But of the 200-plus songs in the Beatles catalog, they know them all.

Columbus is where McGuigan learned his love of music and performing. He admits to being nervous about performing at the Springer but is anxious to get started.

Since he got his feet wet performing on the Springer stage last week, he said he'll tell his brothers "to control their emotions as it is a bit emotional being back where we grew up and where our careers started. But accepting and appreciating those reminiscent feelings really adds to the excitement of being back here."

Ask him what his favorite Beatles song is, and you'll get a different answer every time.

"I love 'Let it Be,'" he said. "That was Dad's favorite. Ask me tomorrow and it will be a different song."

The song they play the most is "Hey, Jude" because it's part of their encore.

"I have the best job in the world," he claims. "I learned Beatles songs. What I love the most about it is it rekindled my love of the Beatles and memories of my father."

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