Let It Be: Theater Review
St. James Theatre, New York (runs through Dec. 29)
Graham Alexander, John Brosnan, Chris McBurney, Ryan Coath, Ryan Alex Farmery
This theatrical concert by an expert Beatles cover band follow in the heels of such similar predecessors as "Beatlemania" and "Rain"
Another year, another Beatles tribute show on Broadway.
Less than two years after the Fab Four were last resurrected in Rain, the similarly conceived and executed Let It Be has arrived to satisfy the nostalgic demands of aging baby boomers. Indeed, this show is so closely patterned after Rain that its creators have initiated a lawsuit arguing copyright infringement. But whatever legal complications ensue, there’s no doubt that the experience is virtually the same.
This Broadway production of a show that has been playing in London’s West End for nearly a year is basic in its concept. Devoid of narrative, it simply presents a group of Beatles imitators delivering some forty of the iconic group’s classic songs, accompanied by video projections. It’s essentially a concert by an excellent cover band, featuring elaborate visual trappings.
Your enjoyment of the experience will depend both on your affection for the music and willingness to suspend disbelief. If you squint, the four bewigged figures onstage are an approximate visual representation of John, Paul, George and Ringo. And their delivery of the classic material -- most of which, ironically, the Beatles never actually performed live -- is certainly accomplished enough to be enjoyable.
Tellingly, the name Beatles is never once uttered onstage, nor the names of its individual members. The faux Ringo’s drum kit is emblazoned with the show’s title.
The onstage performers -- Graham Alexander (Paul), Ryan Coath (John), John Brosnan (George) and Chris McBurney (Ringo), with Ryan Alex Farmery playing keyboards and other instruments -- deliver the songs in roughly chronological order, divided into themed sets.
It begins with a scene depicting the group performing at Liverpool’s dungeon-like Cavern Club -- cleverly, the costumes and visuals here are in black and white -- and proceeds through such seminal chapters of the band’s career as their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, the Shea Stadium concert, the Sgt. Pepper days and their final output on the Abbey Road album.
The between-song patter, delivered in atrocious Liverpudlian accents, is fairly representative of the members’ personalities, with John naturally getting the best lines.
Introducing Ringo singing lead vocals on “I Wanna Be Your Man,” John comments, “He’s suffered for his art. Now it’s your turn.” Later in the show, he informs us, “We’re not going anywhere…we’ve got ten albums to get through yet.”
The performers are convincingly transformed into the Beatles’ various incarnations, from their original mop top, dark-suited look to the wildly costumed Sgt. Pepper era to the casual hipness of the later years. The visuals are similarly period appropriate, featuring a mixture of archival footage and amusing vintage television commercials for such products as Carnation Instant Breakfast and Pall Mall cigarettes.
The show’s generous two-and-a-half hour running time includes the inevitable encore, featuring the sole non-Beatles song in the program, “Give Peace a Chance,” as well as “Hey Jude” and, of course, the title number.
Audiences may well wonder whether the experience is worth paying up to $135 for tickets (more for premium seats), especially when a real live Beatle, Paul McCartney, has been touring this summer. But then again, there’s no underestimating the ageless appeal of this legendary band. More than two decades ago, the show that started the trend, Beatlemania, enjoyed a two year Broadway run. And that was when all the original band’s members were still alive.
Venue: St. James Theatre, New York (runs through Dec. 29)
Cast: Graham Alexander, John Brosnan, Ryan Coath, James Fox, Reuven Gershon, Chris McBurney, Luke Roberts, Ryan Alex Famery, John Korba, Daniel A. Weiss
Musical Supervisor/U.S. director: John Maher
Set designer: Tim McQuillen-Wright
U.S. lighting designer: Jason Lyons
Sound designer: Gareth Owen
Video designer: Duncan McLean
Original video designs: Darren McCaulley, Matthieu St. Arnaud
Costume supervisor: Jack Galloway
Presented by Annerin Productions, Yashuhiro Kawana, BB Promotion, Rubin Fogel, Jujamcyn Theaters