Almost exactly a year ago, the West End gave us Backbeat, a musical about the Beatles’ early years that did not feature any of the group’s actual music. Now we have Let It Be, a show – billed as a “media rich theatrical concert” – that offers us nothing but.
The underrated Backbeat looked at how the group’s identity was forged as they pounded out cover versions of American rock’n’roll in the seedy clubs of Hamburg’s red-light district. In Let It Be, by contrast, the four lovable moptops spring at us fully formed, with a blast of “She Loves You”, in a partial recap of the 1963 Royal Variety Performance which took place at this very theatre, the Prince of Wales.
The John Lennon here tells us that he thinks we know what’s coming and reprises his famous quip from that night when he asked people in the cheaper seats to clap their hands “And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewellery”. And thus, with almost amusingly minimal commentary (“So what next for the Fab Four?”, asks a voiceover, “Conquer America, of course!”), we’re off on an unashamed, beautifully lit nostalgia binge through the hysteria of Shea Stadium, the psychedelia of Sgt Pepper, the flower-power phase and “All You Need Is Love”, through to giving peace a chance and the split.
In Joey Curatolo’s mountingly enjoyable production, there are two bands who share performing duties across the week. Reuven Gershon is an extraordinary reincarnation of the cheeky early Lennon in the one I saw, bringing the audience to its feet for songs like “Twist and Shout” and making mischievous references to its youthfulness.
But he’s required to remain unspikily charming throughout in a time-hopping concert that, while it registers the darkening of the decade in contextual footage (Vietnam, protest marches etc), gives the weird impression of seamless sunniness within the group. There’s wit, though, in the visuals – not just the blizzard of in-period-style animations but in, say, some hilarious Sixties television adverts, with the young Bob Holness recklessly squirting ketchup on shoes fashioned from “Gluv, the man-made suede”.
Deliciously dated these, as opposed to the Beatles’ music that transmits ageless joy in performances that manage to look and sound like uncannily accurate facsimiles of the originals and yet, because they’re a palpable labour of love, have an unmummified life of their own.
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