That 'Star Wars'/'Sgt. Pepper's' Parody Album Is Coming to Life -- With a Full Orchestra

Katrin Auch
Dan Amrich and Jude Kelley

When it came out in 2017, it was unlikely to think that Palette-Swap Ninja's great Beatles/Star Wars parody Princess Leia's Stolen Death Star Plans would ever be performed live. But this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Hertz Hall in Berkeley, California, it will. As Dan Amrich, one-half of the group with Jude Kelley, says, that was the goal all along. 

“Releasing the album was our major milestone; that was the goal for five years,” he told Billboard in a series of interviews. “But somewhere along the way, we thought, 'Wouldn't it be cool if we could do this live?' It was a secret wish more than an actual goal. We figured it was not really feasible -- it was understood that we wouldn't want to do this with backing tracks or recordings. The whole goal of the album was to try to deliver something that sounded authentic, and that same approach applied to a live show -- and that meant real strings and real brass and the entire build for 'A Day in the Life' with a real orchestra."

Performing the orchestral parts will be Awesöme Orchestra Collective, a non-profit group who performs in unlikely places. “They've been around for about five years and their whole goal is to bring symphonic music to the masses and play in places in the Bay Area where you wouldn't necessarily expect find a symphony orchestra,” says Amrich.

“We're the Bay Area's adventure-seeking orchestra, with a mission to create orchestral adventures that are accessible to our communities,” David Möschler, conductor and founding artistic director of the group, told Billboard. “When Dan and Jude approached us about being involved with the live premiere of PLSDSP, we couldn't turn them down.”

The album will be the featured attraction. And that itself took a long time to happen, Amrich said. “The project got started when Jude Kelley and I had been working together for a few years as hobbyist musicians and we were doing little comedy songs and parodies and we sort of got the feeling that we wanted to tell a larger story with some of what we were doing. We wanted to give ourselves a challenge. And so we decided. 'Hey, let's take two things that people love and try to tell the story of one in the structure of another.' It was actually my wife, Katrin Auch, that suggested we take Star Wars and put it to Sgt. Pepper.

But that was only the beginning. “That (decision) was March of 2012. We weren't in a hurry to do it because we liked the idea. The main impetus for the idea to get it done was 'Let's get it done before somebody else has this idea.' Because honestly, it was too good of an idea. We're like, how come this doesn't exist already?

“So we just said nothing about it while it was in development for all those five years and you know life gets in the way. We had originally hoped to have that album out for The Force Awakens and we were nowhere near done. So then we said let's get it out for Rogue One and we missed that deadline, too. That's when I finally sat down and looked at the calendar and said, 'OK, we have this moment coming up, which is the 40th anniversary of Star Wars and the 50th anniversary of Sgt. Pepper a week later. We have to hit that date hell or high water.'”

The reaction was incredibly positive. The album is available for free download and the YouTube playlist of songs from the album has views ranging from 123,000 to more than 950,000 views.

Even more surprising, the show this Saturday is free, but donations will be accepted. “That's part of the rules of working with Awesöme Orchestra being a non-profit,” Amrich says. “As Dave said to me, 'If there are open seats no one can be turned away.' But we also said we'd like to cover some of the band's costs, you know, to pull this off because (being) a significant amount (more) than what we had collected for the free album. So we what we're doing is selling like a limited edition t-shirt which helps the band. If you buy tickets we have reserved the first few rows as VIP seating. Which is to say those seats are technically free, but for people that want to make sure that they get a seat up front without having to line up because it will be donate at the door and sit wherever there's an open seat.”

And that won't be all. “We have some surprises planned also that I don't think people will expect for the show and we are encouraging everybody to show up in costume. This will be, you know, 10 or 11 days before Halloween. I'm sure there's going to be a lot of Star Wars folks, but I'm really hoping we get Beatles folks too. I want to see people showing up in Sgt. Pepper outfits or maybe the Ed Sullivan outfits.”

He says that besides the album, the orchestra will do some additional songs and some of the John Williams Star Wars score. “They're going to be playing, I believe, three different selections from the score. So you get to hear the beauty of John Williams score with a 70-piece orchestra for free as part of this whole event."

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