Ladies and Gentlemen… The Beatles

It’s safe to say that the Beatles’s songs have been played more frequently by more people and heard by more audiences than any other music in the land.

After all, most kids grow up hearing those timeless tunes either from their parents’ record collection or on classic rock radio, nearly every wannabe guitarist early on learns the riff to “And I Love Her” and the like before working their way deeper into the Beatles’ catalogue. Garage bands hone their chops on “Get Back” or “Drive My Car.” And just about every pop singer, folkie, rock band, grunge group or a cappella chorus has, at one time or another, covered at least one nifty number by the Fab Four.

But even the Beatles themselves never played their songs live the way they will be heard this Saturday at the Arlington Theatre, when the Santa Barbara Symphony hosts “Classical Mystery Tour.” The full symphony orchestra will be backing a quartet of mop-top look- and sound-alikes for a run through the Beatles’ catalogue, from the early songs straight up through the highly orchestrated mid and late periods of the lads from Liverpool.

While the original and touring versions of “Beatlemania” featured a few orchestral instruments, this is the first time a full symphony will provide orchestrations that duplicate the original recordings. Imagine hearing the trumpet blast and piccolo trumpet solo on “Penny Lane,” the thick string/wind blend on “I Am the Walrus,” the gorgeous melody of “Yesterday” echoed by string quartet, and the shocking crescendo of the finale of “A Day in the Life” delivered by the full spectrum of instruments.

Even pops conductor Richard Kaufman, who returns to Santa Barbara to lead the pair of concerts on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, says this is the one he’s waiting for when we spoke with him last winter.

“The place just goes crazy when we play those songs,” says Kaufman. “You can feel the emotions rising.”

Although it’s just now arriving in Santa Barbara, “Classical Mystery Tour” got its start more than a decade ago down in Orange County, says Jim Owen, who plays John Lennon.

“I was born in 1966, the year the Beatles did their last live show in America, so of course I never saw them,” says Owen, who grew up listening to classical music until he turned 6.

“That’s when I heard my first Beatles song, and immediately I was quite obsessed. Basically, I’ve never stopped playing that music since,” he says.

The show got its start when Owen – who plays rhythm guitar and piano – met up with Tom Teeley, who has been channeling George Harrison since a stint in the original Los Angeles version of “Beatlemania.” They enlisted fellow “Beatlemania” touring show veteran Tony Kishman to play Paul McCartney and found their Ringo Starr in the person of Chris Camilleri.

“At first, we just had a friend who played sax sit in with the group, and that sparked the idea of adding instruments,” Owen recalls. “Eventually it snowballed into playing with a full orchestra. We’d all played Beatles music for years, but the thought of doing it with a real live symphony was very exciting for all of us.”

Securing the appropriate charts was the first hurdle. Apple didn’t want to part with the originals used by the Beatles and producer George Martin, so Owen approached Martin Herman, a music professor at Cal State Long Beach, to recreate the arrangements.

“It turned out he was a massive Beatles fan and he immediately sunk his heart and soul into it,” Owens explains. “In my mind, you can’t tell the difference with the originals.”

Whether the original Fab Four would be able to notice, or even care about “Classical Mystery Tour” – which plays an average of 50 dates a year – Owen will never know.

“It’s not a throw-away, cheesy production in any way,” he says. “I think they would have appreciated that.”

“Classical Mystery Tour” plays on Saturday at the Arlington Theatre at 8 pm. Tickets are $30 to $65 and are available at the Arlington Theatre by calling 963-4408 or go to www.thesymphony.org.