Something in the Way it Moves: Factory Theater’s ‘Mop Top Festival’ Celebrates The Beatles

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CHICAGO – What has become of what John Lennon called, “The Greatest Show on Earth” (for what it was worth)? The Fab Four are still at The Beatle conventions – now called “The Fest for Beatle Fans”, which have gone on annually since 1977 in Chicago.

Looking to capture the zeitgeist of the yearly gatherings, Factory Theater’s Scott OKen has written and directed “Mop Top Festival”, now playing through April 25th on the main stage located at 3502 N. Elston in Chicago.

A quartet of Beatle convention attendees pose in 'Mop Top Festival'
A quartet of Beatle convention attendees pose in ‘Mop Top Festival’
Photo credit: Paul Metreyeon, Factory Theater

Mop Top Festival is set in present day Chicago at the Hyatt Regency O’Hare, where the actual three-day Beatle fan fest goes on annually. It concerns two groups of ardent Beatle admirers, one foursome that is male and one female. They are there to celebrate The Beatles, but also to connect at the only time during the year that truly makes sense to them, albeit through the filter of the Fab’s “kaleidoscope eyes”.

Adding to the mix is the hotel’s snobby manager and his equally efficient concierge. Both want to play Blue Meanie to the Fest, as their hotel is turned upside down by the overzealous Beatle parade. The proper manager can’t help but harass Festival Director Mark Galapagos (Tucker Curtis, in a funny portrayal and take-off on the actual fest director, Mark Lapidos) and pour cold water on the proceedings by threatening to cut off the festival for next year.

Edward Fraim as a Beatle look-alike in 'Mop Top Festival'
Edward Fraim as a Beatle look-alike in ‘Mop Top Festival’
Photo credit: Photo credit: Paul Metreyeon, Factory Theater

Meanwhile the two foursomes and other eccentric denizens of the festival are co-mingling in many ways, including bonding over obscure Beatle trivia, the memorabilia at the flea market and a particularly great individual entry in the Beatle look-alike contest.

The first half of the show, creating the genesis of tension and exposition in the overall atmosphere, seems a bit forced. The character of these participants seem mired in a pre-download era, where the magic of the Beatle music, films and other ephemera seemed attainable only at the Fest – for example, two of the fans are looking for particular albums as if Ebay doesn’t exist. Maybe it would have been more comfortably set in the pre-web 1990s?

But as the narrative expressed itself in the second half, I bonded with the eccentric aficionados because of their Beatle phantasmagoria. The cast is joyful in portraying their odd obsessions, especially Christine Jennings as Lydia, the trivia buff who maintains her character to high comic effect.

Other standouts include Scott Pasko, having fun as Beatle film stalwart Victor Spinetti (who starred with the boys in Hard Day’s Night, Help and Magical Mystery Tour), Erin Orr/Sarah Rose Graber as the highly energetic younger, giggly attendees and Christopher Marcum as the hotel manager, who gets funnier as the madness progresses.

This is an affectionate tribute to fandom and The Beatles, and combines enough laughs and expectations as it unfolds to integrate essentially with the audience. There is passion in the script and performances, which culminates in a surprising and quite endearing song performance of a lesser known Beatles gem.

So in the end, the Mop Top Festival is equal to the love it makes.

“Mop Top Festival” runs every Friday, Saturday (8pm) and Sunday (7pm) through April 25th at Factory Theater, 3502 N. Elston Avenue in Chicago.

For a complete listing of all shows and reviews in Chicago, visit our partner For half-price Chicago theater tickets, visit our partner Goldstar. staff writer Patrick McDonald

Staff Writer

© 2009 Patrick McDonald,

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