When The Beatles appeared at West End theatres early in their career, they would be hurried out of taxis, grinning from ear to ear as hoards of adoring female fans screamed their names.
For more than a hundred mop-topped hopefuls arriving at the Gielgud Theatre yesterday to audition for a new Beatles-inspired musical, such adoration was, sadly, in short supply. Inside the theatre, however, the spirit of the Fab Four was alive and well.
The producers of Let it Be, the musical, are looking for a John, a Paul, a George and a Ringo – not to mention a “fifth Beatle” to play keyboard – to star in the show, which is due to open in September, fifty years since The Beatles released their first single Love Me Do.
“I’m going for John. It would be magic,” said one of the first through the door yesterday morning, Michael Pinnington, a 26-year-old scouser. “He’s a hero of mine and to play his music in a place so close to where it all really happened for him would be amazing. I’ve got the accent, the only problem is he was right-handed, and I’m left.”
Warming up downstairs is a rag-tag band of latter-day Beatles – a sea of black suits and Chelsea boots the like of which the West End has not seen in many a long year.
“It’s not my real hair,” insists Matt Nichols, 24, who has just performed a rather impressive Here Comes the Sun in front of the judges. Nichols, like many of the hopefuls, is in a Beatles tribute act and has come decked out in full costume of the Beatlemania era. His band, the Bealtez, play cruise ships.
“I think George Harrison would have found this all a bit strange, but the story of The Beatles is one that people still want to hear, whether you tell it on film, on stage or with their music,” he said.
“We don’t just want look-alikes,” the show’s producer, Jamie Hendry told The Independent in a break between auditions. “What we want is excellent musicians who can sing and play every note, and pick up on every nuance of the way The Beatles did it. We want them not just to look like, but to feel like a Beatle.”
Let it Be, which will take the form of a gig spanning 20 songs from different stages of The Beatles’ career, is the first West End show to be granted the rights to the band’s back catalogue. The Beatles’ rise to stardom will be shown with real footage from the time, but Hendry promises that there will be no storyline “pushed onto the music” in the style of other West End tributes to bands, nor will the songs be altered in any way.
Two sets of four Beatles will eventually be chosen from hundreds of hopefuls. Two keyboardists will also be cast to provide backing and effects for some of the band’s later hits which were never performed live. Another round of open auditions was held at the Cavern Club in Liverpool – where the Beatles played their first gigs – earlier this month.
“It has been great finding talented people without agents, who you just wouldn’t come across through the usual casting channels,” said Hendry. “Out of 60 people who auditioned in Liverpool, we’ve called 15 back to work with them further and expect to take a similar ratio from the London audition.”
Let it Be will have a limited run at the Prince of Wales Theatre, where The Beatles played at the 1963 Royal Variety Performance in front of the Queen Mother – a performance remembered for John Lennon iconoclastic jibe, “Could the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands, and the rest of you just rattle your jewellery”.
Isaac Shalam, who at 15-years-old was born nearly forty years after the band split up, took the day off school to have a crack at playing a fittingly baby-faced Paul McCartney.
“My dad refused to play nursery rhymes to me when I was little – I was raised on The Beatles.” he said before his audition. “At my age John and Paul were listening to and copying Elvis and playing with The Quarrymen so in a way I’m like them. But The Beatles made universal music, I don’t think people will ever stop listening to it.”