STORY WRITTEN BY NEAL ZOREN
For Digital First Media
Jimmy Irizarry is the youngest of six children, the four brothers and lone sister ahead of him all being rock ‘n’ roll fans.
From the time he can remember, Irizarry says he was exposed to his siblings’ record collections and played their disks while they were at school. His favorite group, even though he was too young to see its appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show,” was, and is. The Beatles.
“I am a lifelong fan,” says Irizarry by telephone from his home in Chicago, where he is taking a break between stints as the vocalist and rhythm guitarist in “Rain,” The Beatles tribute show that makes a return appearance to Philadelphia with, Irizarry says, new graphics and a different set of songs.
“Rain” does not give its characters names, so Irizarry will be called Jimmy on the Merriam Theater stage even though he will be singing the parts, playing the riffs, and mirroring the antics of John Lennon, a man, and performer, he’s studied closely in a career of doing Beatles show and six years in “Rain.”
“I’ve enjoyed every minute from mastering the Liverpool accent to cutting up on stage the way John did,” Irizarry says.
“Every one of my brothers and sisters, and everyone in the ‘Rain’ audience has a different favorite Beatle. Mine was always John. I was drawn to him because of the comedy he brought to his performances and because he was the most troubled of The Beatles. He had lots of conflicts going on that made it interesting to do more and more research about him,
“I work to reproduce John’s personality and physicality in ‘Rain.” Especially his sense of humor since I was always so taken with the way John would good around.
“We do The Beatles’ arrangements in ‘Rain,’ so I also want to sound to be right. I want people to hear what they hear when they listen to a Beatles record.
“We’re live, so we put our own talents into our performances, but the intention is to give the audience the experience of being at a Beatles concert and show them how that experience changed in terms of lighting effects, orchestrations, and costumes during the years.”
Irizarry says he is especially taken by John’s comedy in the movie, “A Hard Day’s Night,” and he is happy that two of the songs from the film have been added to “Rain’s” repertoire for this tour.
“I have always wanted to sing, “If I Fell” in “Rain” and was glad to see it on the revamped song list,” Irizarry says. “’If I Fell’ and ‘To Dance With You’ are both set for this tour.”
Irizzary says LED lighting gives “Rain” more of a modern-day look and brings energy to the show. He also says to look for more animation in the background montages and to expect some surprises.
All the Irizzary children were interested in music. Jimmy says he remembers his older brothers taking broomsticks and pretending they were guitars.
“We were especially attracted to the bands that led the British Invasion — The Beatles, The Who, The Stones, and later on, Led Zeppelin.”
Broomsticks gave way to actual guitars and while Jimmy says all of the Irizarrys perform, he is the only sibling that made a profession out of playing music.
“I discovered my voice before I learned an instrument,” Irizarry says. “One Christmas Eve when I was three, I sang ‘Silent Night,’ and realized I could carry a tune.. After that I was always singing and still enjoy the vocals.
“I also got a guitar. Once I mastered it, I learned the piano and all kinds of keyboards. The harmonica, too! I was always in a band, and they always played The Beatles or other groups with an aim toward authenticity. We wanted to sound like the bands we covered.
“I branch out and do some work on my own with my own voice and persona. For a change, I also work with bands that do Sinatra, Michael Bublé, and other Rat Pack material. Mostly though, I stick to The Beatles, and most of the time with ‘Rain.’”