Let It Be is simply a celebration of the music of The Beatles from the early Cavern Club days in Liverpool in 1962 to their final public performance on the rooftop of their Apple offices in 1969. There is no elaborate story line here, no elaborate plot, nothing but the music and that is how it should be. This is simply four talented musicians in their own right (taken from a cast pool of twelve) looking the part and certainly enjoying playing the part of The Beatles. Tonight's performers are John (Michael Gagliano), Paul (James Fox), George (John Brosnan) and Ringo (Ben Cullingworth). Period detail and atmosphere is created from the moment you step into the theatre by four large monitors looking like vintage televisions playing different black and white segments of old adverts and newsreels. Audio commentary and music also adds to the feeling that you have stepped back to the 1960s.
The early years of The Beatles in Hamburg are not covered on stage and we open with the band performing at The Cavern with the now iconic line-up that we all know. This is probably a very wise move as, for many, The Beatles' story really begins here. Some very simple and clever stage settings and lighting make you believe you are in an underground club. From a small underground club in 1962 to The Royal Variety Performance in 1963 is our next stop off point. This is where John gives us his now classic "rattle your jewellery" quip. The monitor footage overhead for this performance cleverly uses the original black and white television footage but substitutes our "on-stage performers" for the original Beatles (a nice touch used more than once in other video clips throughout the show too). We then move swiftly to America and the now classic appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The show itself is notable for the first public performance of "Yesterday" by a solo performance from Paul (again another first). We move from there swiftly to Shea Stadium and again very clever set design and lighting manage to recreate part of that illusion that you "might just be there". It is to me during this period when The Beatles were still a live performing band that the show works best. Somehow, seeing good musicians playing the songs live you realise just how well crafted these early songs were. There was no one out there in British music even coming close to what The Beatles were writing and performing at the time. It was also nice to hear a few songs that they "gave away" to other performers - "Do You Want to Know a Secret" which was a hit for Billy J Kramer and the often forgotten "I Wanna Be Your Man" which gave The Rolling Stones their first big commerical singles hit.
The later half of the first part of the show is given over to the work from "Sgt Peppers" and again stage setting, lighting, back projections all give a very psychedelic feel to the songs. This is where the performers for tonight have to really start portraying a bit of the real people beneath the music as by this time The Beatles had stopped performing live and none of these songs were ever presented in a real concert performance. No need to be disappointed, they pull off the job.
The second half of the show takes us to some of my personal favourites from The Beatles as we move into the later works from "Let it Be", "The White Album" and "Abbey Road" (not forgetting of course "The Magical Mystery Tour"). As we are told at the performance, it is nice to hear "The Long and Winding Road" performed as it should have been, that is without the string section overdubs of the album release.
Through the music we get to see how the individual band members were also developing as musicians and becoming far more individual in what they were creating. The often under-rated (compared to Lennon and McCartney) talents of George Harrison as a songwriter are becoming very evident by this time.
Our final session with the band is on the rooftop of their Apple offices as they make their final public performance as a band before the police ask them to stop playing. This may be the final performance from the real Beatles, but not for our performers tonight as they came back on stage to perform some more classic songs including of course "Let it Be" and finally finishing with "Hey Jude".
It needs to be said straight from the beginning that these musicians/performers are not a tribute band on stage, they have to do more than simply "play the music". Somehow, they have to convince an audience that they are The Beatles for the two hours of this show and judging from the audience tonight, they did a very good job of that, getting the whole audience to stand up and join in on many numbers. This is no mean feat as some members of the audience tonight could easily have been at the genuine Beatles concert in Edinburgh.
Writing this review without touching too much on the history of The Beatles is difficult, but must be avoided as there is just so much that has been written about The Beatles over the years that there is nothing to add historically here. Anyone who grew up in the 1960s and watched "Beatlemania" happening first hand knows that they witnessed something very special in the making and anyone who has even a passing interest in popular music over the past 50 years probably knows at least a few Beatles songs.
The musical and cultural impact of The Beatles was vast. No other band has even come close since to their impact on music and society. They simply re-wrote the rules on what was acceptable as a "pop" song and turned pop music into a recognised art form. The Beatles were at a musical and cultural peak (from which they have never come down) when they decided to call it a day and wisely all members of the band decided never to reform and just "Let it Be".
Review by Tom King