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 the hundreds of mop-topped hopefuls arriving at the Gielgud Theatre in London yesterday to audition for a new Beatles-inspired musical, such adoration was in short supply. Inside the theatre, however, the spirit of the Fab Four was alive and well.
The producers of Let it Be are looking for a John, a Paul, a George and a Ringo – as well as a "fifth Beatle" on the keyboard – to star in the show. It is due to open in September, 50 years after the Beatles released their first single "Love Me Do".
"I'm going for John. It would be magic," said Michael Pinnington, a 26-year-old Liverpudlian who was one of the first through the door yesterday. "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 years.
"It's not my real hair," says 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. His band, the Bealtez, play cruise ships.
"We don't just want look-alikes," the show's producer, Jamie Hendry told i. "What we want are 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 to look like, and feel like a Beatle."
Let it Be, which will take the form of a gig with 20 songs spanning 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 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. Two sets of four Beatles will eventually be chosen from the 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. Auditions were also held at the Cavern Club in Liverpool – where the Beatles played their first gigs – last week.
"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 ... 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 the 1963 Royal Variety Performance in front of the Queen Mother – a show remembered for John Lennon's jibe: "Could the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands, and the rest of you just rattle your jewellery".