In the typical jukebox musical, the music of a well-known band or musician are combined with a script which tells us something about the life and times of the artist. In 'Let It Be', there is no script – the songs of The Beatles are simply left to speak for themselves. The format is more akin to a concert as the musicians are set-up 'on stage' in performing mode throughout.
The show is billed as celebrating the 50th anniversary of The Beatles – defined, it seems, by the acquisition of their manager, Brian Epstein, in 1962. That seems a rather strange definition of the birth of a band – if that is what is really being celebrated here. Nevertheless, it has certainly been over 50 years since The Beatles got together and almost as many years since they shot to fame with 'Beatlemania' spreading round the country like an epidemic.
The show starts with The Beatles at the Royal Variety Performance in 1963 where John Lennon made his now famous request for the posh folk in the audience to 'rattle their jewellery'. From there we head off to Shea stadium in the USA for another gig, and then move on to the Sergeant Peppers era, followed by 'Magical Mystery Tour and songs from the White Album.
All the best songs are on offer here, so it is unlikely that you will be disappointed in that department. The singing and musicianship are good and the sound is similar enough to The Beatles but, if you close your eyes and listen, I don't think you'll be fooled into thinking that messrs Lennon, McCartney, Harrison and Starr are on stage before you. The show has two teams taking on the roles in rotation. On the occasion I saw it, Michael Gagliano was playing John, Ian B. Garcia was Paul, John Brosnan was George and Phil Martin was on drums as Ringo. I enjoyed the performances, especially a moving rendition of 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps' by John Brosnan. One distinguishing feature of the early Beatles was their hairstyles resulting in their affectionate nickname 'the loveable mopheads'. The wigs the company wear in this production are pretty dire being almost completely motionless for the duration and very obvious. But revisiting the YouTube version of a recording of the Royal Variety Performance of 1963, I notice that The Beatles' hairstyles there hardly moved a nanometre out of place, but still seemed more real than we see here.
'Let It Be' is billed as a 'multimedia-rich' show. There are pub-quiz type questions about the 'Fab Four' before the show starts (repeated during the interval) which appear on large monitors styled to look like TV sets of the 1960s. We see archive footage and some of the adverts which are shown during scene changes are very funny, especially one for 'Prell' shampoo. On the whole, though, the multimedia element hardly falls into the overwhelming category – the background animation for the Shea concert, for example, has what appears to be an audience of agitated ants watching the show.
I read somewhere recently that back catalogues of bands like The Beatles are selling more now than new bands. If that is really the case, then this show might be back in the West End not very long after the end of its current limited run, because there is an apparent thirst for the music. However, apart from listening to The Beatles' great songs being sung live, I wonder just what else this show offers? The answer is not very much – well, apart from the atmosphere and enjoying the music in the company of a mass of people who share the same enthusiasm for the songs. However, I have seen and heard excellent musicians covering most of The Beatles' songs over the years, in some cases doing it rather better than here. The rest of the audience seemed to love it, though, and readily got to their feet (when prompted) and clapped along with the songs enthusiastically. So what do I know?
"It simply offers an evening of faithfully executed Beatles hits. This kind of show is normally dubbed a juke-box musical, but I'd call it Tussaud Theatre: it asks us to gaze for a couple of hours on replicas of reality...The whole evening, however, is an exercise in faintly necrophiliac nostalgia...I go to the theatre hoping to be surprised, challenged or given a new perspective on reality. What I don't want is to see the musical, of all forms, turned into a gaudy museum."
Michael Billington for The Guardian
"After two glorious hours I left the show feeling as high as a kite. There is no attempt to shoehorn the Beatles hits into a fictional story, as in Mamma Mia!, nor is it a bio-drama about the Beatles’ rise and bitter break-up. Let It Be is essentially a concert with a brilliant covers band offering a non-stop parade of hits in more or less chronological order from the group’s early songs to tracks from their last recorded album, Abbey Road...the music is almost spookily faithful to the originals...For those who love the Beatles, this show is as about as good as it gets."
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph
Paul Taylor for The Independent
"If you like Beatles songs, you will be reasonably happy. If you want storytelling or character analysis, you may not...I suppose I shouldn’t be such a brute. The music is well played and the singing is mainly in tune."
Quentin Letts for The Daily Mail