It seems a natural assumption. The primary musical accompanist for the touring production of the Beatles tribute Rain hails from London, so it goes without saying that he grew up in modest proximity to the Fab Four's home base, Liverpool.
Well, not quite. Chris Smallwood, the keyboardist and percussionist who will be onstage this weekend at the Lexington Opera House with the four performers portraying the many stylistic profiles of The Beatles, is indeed a Londoner. But in this case, we're talking London, Ky.
"I grew up there but consider Lexington my hometown in a lot of ways because, for most people outside of Kentucky, that's the city they have heard of most in that area," Smallwood said. "And this will be closest that Rain will ever play to London, so most of my friends and family will be coming to the shows there."
Rain has been a touring Beatles tribute attraction for several years. But its profile increased dramatically last fall, when the production opened on Broadway. Still, there is plenty of Rain left for the road. And for Smallwood, 25, hooking up with its touring incarnation has been a departure from his predominantly classical musical schooling.
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After attending the Governor's School for the Arts at Transylvania University, he went on to earn a bachelor's degree in music in 2008 from Belmont University in Nashville (where he lives) and a master's degree in music in 2010 from the University of Louisville.
Then things got seriously busy.
"I graduated with my master's in May, got married in July and started Rain in September," Smallwood said.
Insert any variation of the cliché "when it rains, it pours" here. But for Smallwood, that's been the case ... in a positive way. As with so many artists in pop and classical fields, the music of the Beatles was a powerful formative influence.
"I was into the Beatles before I was into Beethoven," Smallwood said. "They very much provided the soundtrack for my growing up. It was the music my parents exposed me to the most. So this is really my dream job. I ended up focusing on classical music with my degrees. But the Beatles have always been my favorite."
Smallwood's contributions to Rain are integral to bringing the music of The Beatles to life, even though he might sit just outside the spotlight. The four actors/singers/musicians playing the band members are, understandably, the visual and musical focus of the show. But any music the quartet doesn't create falls to Smallwood. Given that the arrangements of the group's late-'60s songs were so detailed and orchestral in design, that might seem daunting.
"The arrangements are the reason I'm even needed in the show," Smallwood said. "The early Beatles tunes are traditional rock 'n' roll, meaning guitars, bass and drums. I'm not really very active there except for adding a few things like hand claps and cowbells. But once you get into Sgt. Pepper and Magical Mystery Tour, there are lots of strings, horns and really involved orchestrations that make the music so incredible.
"So I'll be re-creating the cellos from I Am the Walrus and the flutes from Strawberry Fields Forever, all on keyboards. I've known these songs all my life, but the challenge has been in figuring out the actual notes.
"There are only five of us onstage. The other guys get to play, say, Paul McCartney for two hours. But I'll be bouncing around trying to cover all of these different bases. That will keep me on my toes. But the show is ultimately just about spreading the music of the Beatles. Like I said, that's a dream job."