The "Ladies and Gentleman…The Beatles!" exhibit at the NYPL. Photo Credit: Jonathan Blanc/The New York Public Library.

The “Ladies and Gentleman…The Beatles!” exhibit at the NYPL. Photo Credit: Jonathan Blanc/The New York Public Library.

When four mop-top English lads stepped onto the tarmac at JFK International Airport in New York on February 7, 1964, America and the world changed forever, only we didn’t know it yet.

After the famous Ed Sullivan show appearance, Beatlemania ensued, followed by 27 number one U.S. hit singles, 200 billion record-breaking albums, thousands of screaming fans, and that famous walk down Abbey Road. To say that you lived during the era of the Beatles is to say that you experienced a part of history. Well, the brilliant exhibit Ladies and Gentleman… The Beatles! brings them back in extraordinary fashion 50 years later. This visually stimulating experience can be found at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center Plaza, on display in the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery, from February 6 to May 10.

Ladies and Gentlemen…The Beatles! will examine the musical and cultural significance of the group’s arrival in America,” exhibition curator and executive director of The GRAMMY Museum at L.A. LIVE, Bob Santelli, said in a New York Public Library press release. “As social history, Beatlemania turned America upside down, inspiring new ideas in music, fashion, art, literature, film, even politics. Little in America was untouched by The Beatles in the 1960s. This exhibit explores that impact, using historical film footage, oral histories, and period artifacts.”

The exhibition starts from early 1964 and ends in mid-1966, the years that the names John Lennon, George Harrison, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr were more popular than Jesus (according to the famously controversial statement made by Lennon in July of 1966). Newspaper clippings, ticket stubs, handwritten lyrics, black and white videos, movie posters, 45 rpm records and interactive elements provide new insight into just how influential the Beatles really were. They successfully whisk us back to Manhattan amid the days of cameras flashing, girls shrieking and good old-fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.

But the rock legends aren’t the only focus of the display, as it goes back to America before the Beatles and the days of the classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes that inspired them. Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan and the Beach Boys are just a few names that make an appearance. Video and headphones let you listen to some of these inspirational artists, like Berry Gordy and his Motown music, and view a real performance of theirs. It’s a nice touch, but, for a brief moment, it might seem that having so much non-Beatles memorabilia almost takes away from the true aspect of the exhibit. The curators likely thought it an important sidestep because before being catapulted to mega stardom, the Fab Four were an ocean away taking in this inspirational music. Back then they were known as the Beatals, the Silver Beetles, and Silver Beatles, playing at local pubs for an absent audience.

Upon entering this divine gallery, spectators are first greeted with some of the instruments responsible for making the groundbreaking rock sounds that inspired a generation: Paul’s German-made Hofner 500/1 bass, Ringo’s Ludwig Downbeat Oyster Black Pearl drum kit, George’s Gretsch Chet Atkins country gentleman guitar, and John’s Rickenbacker 325 guitar. Pan over and you’ll find microphones lined up with the Panam logos behind them, mimicking the set of the Beatles’ planeside press conference. A video above even shows the interview, but it’s not one for those hard of hearing. After struggling to listen in, I later found out that I missed a certain cheeky comment from John introducing himself to the reporter as Eric — typical goofy Beatles style.

As you meander throughout the intimate space, decorated with bright, kaleidoscopic-like wallpaper, Beatles tunes like “All My Loving,” “Please Please Me” and “Twist and Shout” play softly in the background — adding a nostalgic ambiance to the atmosphere. Behind scattered Plexiglas casings there is Beatles memorabilia, ranging from longtime Beatles manager Brian Epstein’s last will and testament, to a Hard Day’s Night movie poster, to a photograph from the set of the movie ‘Help!’ For those true Beatles fans, other items may tug at your heartstrings a little. Handwritten lyrics of the song “What You’re Doing” give insight into their creative writing process, and Paul’s jacket from a 1965 Shea Stadium concert as well as John’s iconic glasses also make an appearance. These more personal mementos make you feel that much closer to those four dreamy English boys. And anyone who was a teenager during the ’60s will recognize the Beatles bobbleheads, rings, buttons, purses, wigs, shoes, lunchboxes, fan books, pins and other merchandise on display. Not to mention the familiar sight of a typical teenage girl’s bedroom at the time. Despite the small space, there is so much to look at that you will be occupied for hours.

Interactive features add a fun, laid-back element to the exhibit — much like the vibe the Beatles themselves emit as a group. There are instruments that you can pick up and play, like an acoustic guitar, washboard and tea chest bass — though they seem a bit out of place, it was a nice idea. Five video screens throughout, equipped with headphones, allow you to listen to 20 Beatles videos, like an interview of Paul and John talking about how they met, a recording session of “Love Me Do,” a hectic and boisterous greeting from fans as the group arrives at Heathrow Airport in London, and an amusing interview at JFK talking about their famous hairdos. And in the last room of the exhibit, you are presented with the opportunity to learn, on a real drum set, the drumming basics from Ringo himself — though it’s curious that there is no Paul guitar-playing interactive equivalent. Aside from that music lesson, you are able to literally step into the past in a vocal booth where you can record your favorite Beatles memories. Having your favorite Beatles flashback — even if it’s something small, like when your parents would sing “I Will” or “When I’m 64” as childhood lullabies, such as in my case — presented in this way can be a surprisingly emotional experience.

People may argue over who was the greatest band of all time, but their efforts are futile. Rare, behind-the-scenes photos taken by Bob Bonis, over 400 private collectors items, and interviews with fellow artists such as Max Weinberg, Ozzy Osbourne, and Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick reinforce the fact that there is, was and likely will never be no other musical group like the Beatles. The exhibit triggers a certain reliving-happy-memories feeling and very easily will bring a smile to your face that stretches from ear to ear. The only thing missing from this impressive, fascinating showcase are the goofy, all too talented Beatles themselves.

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The “Ladies and Gentleman…The Beatles!” exhibit is on display in the Donald and Mary Oenslager Gallery at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at 40 Lincoln Center Plaza, New York, NY 10023 from February 6 to May 10. For more information, please visit