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Billy McGuigan and his brothers Ryan and Matthew perform during their Beatles revue “Yesterday and Today” in 2017. This year’s show runs through Dec. 31 at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

One of the best things about “Yesterday and Today” is that the McGuigan brothers don’t try to portray John, Paul, George and Ringo.

Throughout the Beatles tribute show at the Omaha Community Playhouse, they’re just their genuine, funny and entertaining selves. No costumes, no pretense.

That enables Omaha performer Billy McGuigan (of “Buddy Holly” fame) and brothers Ryan and Matthew to bond immediately with the audience. The performers and audience have something important in common: They all love the Beatles.



I’d already connected with the brothers in an enjoyable, all-over-the-place interview and knew I had to finally see the show for the first time this year.

“Yesterday and Today” has been at the Playhouse for more than a decade with an audience-request format. Until 2019, they perused the requests backstage and put together a performance before the show started.

Now they put the requests in baskets and select them onstage in real time. I was a little fuzzy on how it would work. I thought it would be a hodgepodge (or, in radio terms, a train wreck, which is when a DJ plays two incompatible songs back to back). I figured they would choose requests entirely at random.

They do, but they wisely figured out a way to give performances more structure: It appeared that each request went into a basket according to category (early Beatles, later Beatles, love songs, etc.) and as the show rolls along, they randomly pick from each collection depending on where the music has been and where they want it to go.

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The musicians — including Jay Hanson, Rich Miller and Tara Vaughan — also perform a few (apparent) non-requests for a compelling and heartwarming reason: The pieces (a notable one is “We Can Work It Out”) help the McGuigans tell the history of the show and their family.

Dad McGuigan was a huge Fab Four fan who passed his passion on to his sons. He died of cancer in the 1990s. The show is as much a tribute to him as it is to the Beatles — at one point, pictures of the family are projected on screens above the stage. It’s very cool.

In fact, the entire thing is an absolute blast.

They ask some people to stand when their songs are chosen, and there’s banter back and forth. One guy requested “When I’m 64,” changing the number to 84 because, presumably, he’d already passed the younger landmark. That was good for some conversation with the band.

Others get to see the slips they filled out projected on the screens. I don’t know about everyone else, but I found myself anxiously awaiting to see whether my song would be selected. There’s a place on request forms to tell them why it’s your favorite song, and they’re fun: “Komm Gib Mir Deine Hand” was one request, “because everything sounds better in German ... or French.”

At our interview, the McGuigans insisted on knowing my favorite Beatles song. I answered without hesitation: “The Long and Winding Road.” By the time the show came around, however, it was “Golden Slumbers,” the sublime medley that ends the “Abbey Road” album, and they played it as their own finale (then returned for several encores, of course). The reason on my form: “Because today it’s my favorite. Tomorrow it might not be.”

I texted my brother, a fervent Beatles fan, and asked for his favorite song: “Hey Bulldog,” he replied.

It was someone else’s favorite too, because “rock and roll,” the form said. It was the second song after they opened with “Come Together.”

The hits kept coming: “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” “Drive My Car.” “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds.” “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.”

There was an extended sing-along (“Hey Jude”) and early set (“Dizzy Miss Lizzy,” “Twist and Shout.”)

The entire band sat in an upstage circle to recreate all-acoustic childhood jam sessions in the McGuigan home (“Things We Said Today” and “Blackbird”).

After hundreds of performances over the years, no two the same, these musicians know their stuff. They put their own stamp on the songs (they’re not just dutifully mimicking album arrangements), but, regardless, it’s amazing how close they come to the overall Beatles sound.

By not slavishly portraying one band member throughout, like people in most tribute bands, the McGuigans free themselves to sing lead on the songs they know and love best or those most suited to their particular styles and talents.

It’s a pretty brilliant concept, and one I’m sorry I’ve been missing all this time.

I feel like I’ve been initiated into a very special club that meets once a year.

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Betsie covers a little bit of everything for The World-Herald's Living section, including theater, religion and anything else that might need attention. Phone: 402-444-1267.

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