Let it Be at The Playhouse Theatre is pretty much as simple a format for a musical stage show as you can get...take the songs of The Beatles, and without any script or real narrative let the songs themselves tell the story of the band from the early Cavern Club days in Liverpool to the final performance on the rooftop of the Apple Headquarters building in London. In between we get the obvious landmark points – The Royal Variety Performance, The USA Ed Sullivan television show appearance, the massive USA Shea Stadium concert, Sgt Peppers, The Summer of Love and the slightly darker days of the late 1960s.
Does this simple format of letting the songs themselves tell the story with some impressive stage visuals and lighting, archive newsreels and television articles work though? The answer to that is overall a big yes and the show is probably going to please most music fans and probably most Beatles fans too. It certainly pleased the audience overall tonight.
The “Let It Be” show band is actually made up of nine cast members who can become the “The Beatles” and tonight’s “Fab Four” were overall convincing in their parts, but looking and sounding the part is obviously not enough, they have to be able to play the music and the “Let it Be” cast band are all very good musicians and for me bring a little bit of the sounds of my old record collection to life, and hopefully for anyone who ever saw the original Beatles play bring some of those memories back to life for a few hours on stage.
A show like this (despite its glossy stage effects) is always going to be balancing a tightrope between stage show and tribute band and if you fall off that tightrope there is the added danger of it all becoming a big karaoke show. There was the odd song or two when it did feel like the numbers were just being run through (“Yesterday” comes immediately to mind here), but that trap is always going to be so difficult to avoid as we have all heard these songs now so often over the last 50 years or so that it is almost impossible to imagine what hearing them for the first time when they were new must have sounded like. That in itself is where the show fails a bit, it is just impossible now to perform these songs as “new music” and give any real idea of what it felt like to be there at the time and just what an impact The Beatles were making on the music scene. The show does give a bit of that feel at times, but the magic of the original band only happened once and is really impossible to recreate again. “Let it Be” does what is the next best thing, it lets the magic of the songs out again for a few hours on stage.
There were some nice touches through the show, some nice “Beatles in-jokes”, but probably the nicest part of the evening (well to me) was the cast dedicating the show to the late George Martin and giving his enormous contribution to the music its due credit.
I saw this show when it was last in Edinburgh, and liked it a lot. I still like this show a lot, but on a second watching I am now convinced that a narrator (maybe as a TV show host or something) could add something to the show and pull some of the musical strands together a bit. We need someone to give us some idea of just how special The Beatles were and just how ground-breaking their music was – things like having all top 5 positions at once in the USA Billboard 100 records sales in 1964 go un-mentioned and we are also given a rather “bland and safe” overview to their music, and the Beatles were anything but that – they had a real sharp edge at times and caused a lot of controversy (John Lennon’s Jesus comments in the USA for example). I for one would have liked a bit of that darker and edgier side of the band explored – even in the music. I would also love to see a show brave enough not to do the Sgt Peppers songs in those outfits, but just as they were conceived and performed – in the studio. We all know the idea behind the album cover and the visuals, but the songs simply don’t need it as they are strong enough on their own stripped back merits, and it can make the whole thing look a bit cartoonish at times.
The problem any Beatles show or tribute band is going to have of course is that there are a fixed number of songs that the public simply want to hear such as all the big number 1s, Sgt Pepper, Let it Be, Hey Jude, and while they are all great songs, there is so much more great music in their back catalogue.
Given that the “Let It Be” band are playing what are probably the most recognisable songs in popular music of the last 50 years, it seemed to take a lot of hard work for them to get the audience fully behind them for this show. Things improved enormously better in the second half, and I don’t think this really had that much to do with the band, simply that modern audiences simply like those later songs better. It is in this second half that the “Let it Be” band seemed to get a lot tighter and stronger too and gave us some idea of just what a great live band The Beatles would still have been had they still been performing live shows at that time. That itself is maybe why these shows work so well as The Beatles may have left us some magical music, but they also left so many questions unanswered, so many “what ifs”.
It was good too that at the start of the show there was an announcement to the audience that as long as flash photography was NOT used that it was alright to take photographs on your mobile phones. Nice to see a company that understands the power of social media in self-promotion.
Later on in the evening though the audience were invited to hold their lighters or torches high in old rock concert style..of course this being the 21st century, all the light was coming from mobile phones held high..an interesting contrast to the music being played on stage.
Review by Tom King