Joe Bithorn says the music of the Beatles is as timeless as the works of Mozart, John Coltrane or Louie Armstrong.
He should know. The New York City-born and bred musician has been portraying George Harrison for about 20 years with the music revue show, Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles.
The show comes to the Tri-Cities on March 14, wrapping up the Windermere Theatre's Broadway season at Toyota Center. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.
Bithorn was a youngster when he first saw the fab four perform on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. He grew up in Manhattan a few blocks from where the band was performing at the Ed Sullivan Theater.
"I remember it so well," he said in a telephone interview with the Herald. "I was laying on the floor in front of the TV when they came on and sang I Wanna Hold Your Hand. They made a huge impression on me as a kid."
It didn't take long for Bithorn to get interested in the bass guitar a few years later. He also learned to play the piano, sitar and various percussion instruments.
Bithorn was part of the original cast of the Broadway show Beatlemania from 1980-82 when he branched off on his own with a couple of musician friends to play at the Beverly Theater in Los Angeles. He and friend Joey Curatolo heard Rain was looking to replace its lead guitarist and bassist, and decided to audition.
They were hired -- Bithorn as George and Curatolo as Paul McCartney.
"In the early days, we played in bars mostly, but as the years progressed, our show made it to Broadway," he said. "We thought that was pretty cool."
Rain: A Tribute to the Beatles is much more than a concert featuring four guys who sing Beatles tunes and dress the part of the Beatles from 1964-70.
It's a two-hour production that fits a musical performance with a stage show and musical history lesson.
Bithorn says the group's goal is to allow the audience to re-live the Beatles experience -- hence the number of costumes, wigs and facial hair changes.
The band earned the 2011 outstanding revue award from the Drama Desk Award association, stemming from the revue's more than 300 performances on Broadway, which ended last year.
"I was a huge George Harrison fan growing up, so being able to represent him with Rain is an honor," Bithorn said.
He doesn't take the privilege lightly, either. He has studied every nuance of Harrison's persona as a man and a musician, so his portrayal is as close to the real thing as possible.
That's especially true when it comes to Harrison's song, Here Comes the Sun.
"I try to play the music with the same passion and sentiments that George may have had when he wrote this beautiful song," he said.
His bandmates are equally dedicated to capturing the essence of each one of the Beatles, he added.
Steve Landes is John Lennon. He plays rhythm guitar, harmonica and piano. Originally from Philadelphia, Landes has played alongside Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits, Joey Molland of Badfinger, Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels and Tiny Time. He has also appeared in a few films such as Mars Attacks!, Wedding Bell Blues and For Which He Stands.
Curatolo joined Rain the same time Bithorn did. As Paul McCartney, he sings a mean Hey Jude!, which earned plenty of awards in McCartney sound-alike contests as teenager. He also plays bass, piano and guitar. He grew up in Brooklyn.
Ralph Castelli portrays Ringo Starr and is the only West Coast native in the group, growing up in Southern California. He joined Rain in 1986.
The show also features Mark Beyer on keyboards.
As for Bithorn, the pop/rock sound of the Beatles is just one music style he loves.
"I'm a big classical music fan, but I love all music, jazz, blues, rock, pop -- you name it," he said. "As Duke Ellington once said, 'There's just two kinds of music: good and bad.' I feel the same way."
Bithorn said the show's title Rain was initially Reign, but in the early days when the group was playing honky tonks across the country, some bar owner promoted the band with the wrong spelling.
"From then on, that's how people remembered the band's name spelled, so it just stayed," he said. "But the music is timeless and has never changed."
Rain is also the name of a Beatles song that appeared as the B-side to Paperback Writer.
Tickets to the show are from $32 to $67 and are available at ticketmaster.com or the Toyota Center box office.