Fresno Philharmonic goes pops with Paul McCartney themed show

The Fresno BeeOctober 9, 2013 

Tony Kishman


Tony Kishman had one of those "life is weird" moments recently in Winnipeg, Canada. He walked outside the theater in which his "Live and Let Die: A Symphonic Tribute to the Music of Paul McCartney" was playing and looked up at the big marquee sign blaring his name.

For three nights, Kishman and his band, appearing with the Winnipeg Symphony, had been packing audiences into the 2,000-seat hall.

Then he looked down the street, where he saw a much smaller theater with a sign announcing its act: the Moody Blues, with special guest Peter Frampton.

To recap:

Enormous theater, three nights, massive audiences. All to see a guy who is Not Paul McCartney pretend to be the real thing.

Smaller theater, much smaller audiences, to see a legendary rock band and famed guitarist.

"I thought to myself, 'This is insane,' " says Kishman, on the phone from his home in Tucson, Ariz. "People are coming to see an imitation. And then I thought: They're not here to see me. It's the subject matter. People grew up with the Beatles. McCartney is one of the greatest singers of all time, the greatest songwriters of all time."

Kishman travels to Fresno's Saroyan Theatre to appear Saturday with 45 members of the Fresno Philharmonic in the orchestra's first pops concert of the season.

He originally was scheduled to come to Fresno eight months ago, in February, but the orchestra decided to reschedule after learning that the Broadway in Fresno series was bringing in the popular "Rain" touring musical the night before.

It's the first time Kishman can recall one of his gigs being rescheduled because of bumping up against another tribute show the same weekend, but it was probably inevitable, he says. The Beatles — and McCartney — are that hot.

Kishman's philosophical moment in Winnipeg certainly wasn't the first time he's ruminated on the peculiarity of people clamoring to see a tribute show. For 35 years, he has been performing as McCartney.

Encouraged to audition in the late 1970s for the popular "Beatlemania" show on Broadway, he realized that his physical resemblance to the beloved McCartney — and especially the timbre of his voice — made him a natural to fill the role.

After "Beatlemania" closed in 1985, Kishman gathered together "some of the guys" to perform in the "Legends in Concert" show. He's also appeared in the shows "Beatle Magic," "Classical Mystery Tour," "All You Need Is Love," and "Twist and Shout."

The current "Live and Let Die" show, which features Kishman along with Jim Owen, John Merjave and Chris Camilleri — along with traveling conductor Martin Herman — has been around for four years.

The premise is simple: If put in front of a symphony orchestra, what would Paul McCartney sing?

A key difference between this show and the earlier Beatles tributes in which Kishman has been involved is that many more McCartney solo works can be played. The song list includes "Hey Jude," "Penny Lane," "Live and Let Die," "Yesterday," "My Love," "Uncle Albert," "Let It Be," "Hello Good-Bye," "Long and Winding Road," "Get Back," "Silly Love Songs," "Jet," "Maybe I'm Amazed" and "When I'm Sixty-Four."

Though as a young man Kishman resisted the comparisons people often made to him and McCartney, he slowly came around.

"There are moments when I think I'm sounding close," he says modestly.

The key similarities between him and McCartney, he says, are their tenor voices, physical attributes and ability to play multiple instruments with finesse.

For all his years playing McCartney, Kishman has still never officially met the man.

His closest brush with the singer/composer came in 1979 while Kishman was in a "Beatlemania" production in London. McCartney was playing at London's Wembley Stadium, and Kishman and his fellow "Beatlemania" cast members scored tickets from someone with a backstage connection.

Just don't expect to meet McCartney after the show, Kishman was warned. He doesn't do that kind of thing.

After a great show, Kishman and his friends left just before the last encore so they could beat the traffic.

The next day, their backstage connection told them: "Where did you guys go after the show? You're not going to believe this. Paul came offstage, and he looked at me and said, 'Where are those lads from 'Beatlemania?' Tell them to come backstage, I want to meet them.' "

Though it's decades later, you can still hear the tiniest amount of exasperated regret in Kishman's voice.

"It took several years for me to be able to tell the story," he says with a laugh.


"Live and Let Die," 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 12, Saroyan Theatre, 700 M St., (559) 261-0600. $25-$80.


The reporter can be reached at (559) 441-6373, and @donaldbeearts on Twitter.

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