An ex-Beatle’s old work may hold a lesson for the future of Miami’s Mad Cat Theatre Company.
Ram on. Push forward.
On Friday and Saturday nights, Mad Cat’s 15th season opens with Mad Cat Live!, a new contemporary concert series. For the inaugural event, a core group of local musicians, many of them trained at music schools like Berklee and University of Miami, will perform a concert reproduction and re-imagining of the 1971 Paul and Linda McCartney album RAM on the main stage at Miami Theater Center in Miami Shores.
“We decided to start with Paul McCartney’s RAM for the first foray because we wanted to pick an album that was representative of what this feels like in a way,” said Paul Tei, Mad Cat’s artistic director and founder. “RAM was a time in Paul and Linda’s life when they were dealing with the breakup of the band he was with. He’s at the point where he has something to prove to himself.”
Certainly, RAM was a peculiar challenge — much as it will be for Mad Cat to present an album performance in today’s world of singles and streaming.
“We thought we’d create a format where people could come at a great price and hear albums by great artists like Paul and Linda and have an experience that isn’t at a bar and is at 8 o’clock,” Tei said hopefully.
Amid the distractions posed by settling the Beatles’ byzantine legal affairs, McCartney had a need to prove he could still make viable music without his mates. He was in a relatively new marriage, was a new father, and he had to deliver a commercial product to satisfy Apple Records.
RAM was initially perceived as a failure. Despite spinning off his first post-Beatles No. 1 single, Uncle Albert/Admiral Halsey, and peaking at No. 2 on the American album charts, reviews for RAM ranged from hostile (“incredibly inconsequential” and “monumentally irrelevant,” blasted Rolling Stone) to dismissive. Fellow Beatle John Lennon felt songs like Too Many People and 3 Legs were personal attacks on him and his wife Yoko Ono. Ringo Starr opined in a British music magazine, “I feel sad about Paul’s albums. I don’t think there’s one [good] tune on the last one, RAM. He seems to be going strange.”
Yet, the McCartneys soldiered on. After a couple more stumbles, McCartney became a reliable hit machine in the 1970s with his band Wings and its 1973 landmark Band on the Run, an album Mad Cat could have chosen. But that would have been too easy.
“I was thinking of Back to the Egg, but even McCartney doesn’t regard that one well,” Tei said.
RAM, which has enjoyed a favorable critical reappraisal over the years, best fits Mad Cat’s mission.
“If you listen to RAM, it still sounds fresh. There’s a phrase in one of the tracks in Monkberry Moon Delight where he talks about ‘cats and kittens’ and ‘don’t get left behind,’ and I though of the line almost as a mantra to himself: Yes, you’re still Paul McCartney. You’re still famous. But if you don’t catch up and push yourself forward you’ll get left behind. And as you see the rest of the Beatles’ solo careers go on, you can see that this is true,” Tei said.
The exact line, with its call-and-response Paul and Linda leads, boasts one of the song’s many indelible hooks but seems more McCartney lyrical gibberish. But as Tei ties it in with Mad Cat’s desired growth and goals the words begin to make sense:
Catch up (catch up)/Cats and kittens (cats and kittens)/Don’t get left behind (don’t get left behind).
“He pushed forward and created a new life, so for Mad Cat doing theater and incorporating mostly original music with our plays, it was time for us to push out of this a little bit and create a subset for us around the music,” Tei said.
Don’t expect an exact, sequential reproduction of RAM. This isn’t Classic Albums Live. The night will begin and end with discussions of the music and its impact, including a closing Q&A session with the musicians, who include guitarist Darren Bruck and bassist Jim Camacho, who performed RAM’s The Back Seat of My Car with his band in July at the South Miami-Dade Cultural Arts Center.
The company has rehearsed since February and turned songs inside out. For instance, the players tried Eat at Home as a reggae tune, and then brought it back closer to its original pop/rock incarnation. By this manner, they found insight. “We want to deconstruct the songs a bit and see what is there.… like we would with a script,” Tei said.
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