Firmly established in the West End and as a touring show Let It Be: A Celebration Of The Music Of The Beatles embarked on a new national tour in August. The show has been updated with the second half imagining a 1980 reunion, with the first half of the show encompassing everything from Beatlemania to Abbey Road.
From the opening lines of the show, the magic and timeless quality of the Beatles music shines through. Essentially an extended concert, narration and video footage links the various scene and costume changes as the Fab Four switch from the Royal Variety show to Shea stadium, Sgt Pepper and finally the final concert atop the Apple building. The show is pacy, with the Shea stadium era (1966) reached within the first 15 minutes. Performed by a talented cast of 4, Italian Emanule Angeletti stands out as Paul McCartney with every wide eyed head shake, and Michael Gagliano captures Lennon’s sarcastic humour well. The other 2 Beatles get less to do, with John Brosnan suitably quiet as George, while Ben Cullingworth (Ringo) gets a chance to take centre stage singing “A Little Help from my Friends”. Musical director Michael Bramwell provides the musical backup on keyboards. Despite the fact that many of the Beatles’ post 1966 recordings being increasingly complex , the show does a fair job of replicating this sound from the trumpets of “Penny Lane” to the 40 piece orchestra of “A Day in the Life”.
The second, and more interesting half of the show takes a fanciful step into a parallel universe in which The Beatles came together once again to stage a late 1980 reunion. With the tragic reality sidestepped, “the concert that never was” offers many delights for Beatles fans as imagined stage banter is acted out (Paul calling “Imagine” the best song ever written) and the 4 perform various solo hits alongside the 60s classics. Hence John singing his comeback anthem “Starting Over” with Paul and George providing the backing vocals, and similarly McCartney/Lennon providing the Hare Krishna refrain to George’s “My Sweet Lord” . A lovely solo version of “Imagine” is a late highlight before a sing along finale brought everyone to their feet. Audience participation including photography (refreshingly) is encouraged throughout.
Performed by a talented cast, the fast pace means there is little chance for character or plot development, although the Beatles story was no doubt familiar to a partisan Liverpool crowd. Hence the tensions around the gradual break up of the band are not touched upon and Brian Epstein only receives a brief mention on a video screen. The iconic Cavern doesn’t feature anywhere, but due to the hair and make up/costume changes this can be excused. There are also a few notable song omissions- no “All you Need is love” for example or “Something” which might have replaced “Got my mind set on you” a song which features in the 1980 set concert, but which was not actually recorded by Harrison until 1989. However the imagination of the second half allows the actor/performers to step up offering a tantalising and vivacious look at an alternate future that never happened. More than the sum of its parts, Let it Be reminds us all how great the Beatles are, and in a world torn apart by conflict, how relevant their message of peace and love still is.