Jump back in time to 1964. It is a hurricane night in Key West, Florida. The scene is a small motel room. Who walk in? John Lennon at the age of 23 and Paul McCartney at 22. The play “Only Yesterday” by Bob Stevens provides imaginary details of what happens during the day and night when the two Beatles try to escape clamoring fans, get drunk, struggle to compose a song and wind up tearful over the loss of their mothers. Ringo and George are staying elsewhere.
Christopher Sears plays John as an acerbic, short-tempered guy who flashes considerable anger and stands firmly on principle when he hears that the Jacksonville concert, one stop on a national tour, will have a segregated audience. He notes having grown up admiring music by black artists and asserts on the phone that the Beatles will not perform unless the audience is desegregated. We learn that he prevails--the audience will not be segregated.
Tommy Crawford plays Paul McCartney as the quieter one who spends time pruning before a mirror even though he immediately isn’t going anywhere. He and Sears play their guitars and sing, although it is Sears as John who stands out especially, as in a moment when he hilariously imitates Elvis Presley. Both Beatles are thrilled at the news that they will be meeting Elvis on this national tour, as they have idolized him.
The other character we meet is Christopher Flockton as their road manager, who is kept busy arranging things and trying to control them while also catering to their demands. They don’t want to have to deal with crazed fans hungry just to see them. They don’t want to do interviews. Every time the motel door opens, we hear the noise of cheering fans, and John and Paul want a respite from all of that.
Suddenly they hear a voice inside the room. One fan, teenage Shirley (voiced by Olivia Swayze), has crawled into the air vent. John and Paul, amazed at her ingenuity, humor her in friendly fashion, even playing and singing a song for her. Her day is made even more memorable when John writes a note confirming the encounter and promises to send it to her.
Our attention is held by watching John and Paul interact, sometimes with hostility, but basically with affection. They reminisce about their start, and we get a portrait of two young guys who find it hard to fathom their tremendous success. Their very human side is emphasized when, loosened by booze, they confess to one another how awful it was for them to lose their mothers and the hurt they suffered as each tried to get over the death in his way.
Although the play, convincingly directed by Carol Dunne, is only 75 minutes without an intermission, there is a section—the efforts to write a song—which is a bit overlong. But mostly the work comes across as a fascinating opportunity to enjoy the illusion of being with John and Paul in extremely private moments. Sears and Crawford are very much up to the task with excellent acting that helps us to accept this make-believe as reality. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 646-892-7999. Reviewed September 13, 2019.