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Let It Be, Prince of Wales Theatre | reviews, news & interviews

Let It Be, Prince of Wales Theatre

Let It Be, Prince of Wales Theatre

Phoney Beatlemania almost bites the dust in the West End

One of the two 'Let It Be' quartets of fake fabs sets about capturing the magic

In Beatles’ lore, the Prince of Wales Theatre is totemic. Here, on 4 November 1963, the cheeky quartet played the Royal Command Performance before the Queen Mother and Princess Margaret. John Lennon quipped, “Would the people in the cheaper seats clap your hands? And the rest of you, if you’ll just rattle your jewellery”. Now, 50 years on from the release of their first single, a tribute of sorts is taking place on the same stage with the arrival of Let It Be in the West End.

Let It Be tries to hide what it is – at the end of the show, the cast members are introduced for the first time as “on bass”, “on drums” and so on. But the mop-head wigs, stick-on moustaches, Sgt Pepper outfits and quoting Lennon’s Royal Variety lines make it explicit, as do the songs played. Yet the word Beatles does not appear on the show’s posters or in the show itself. The “John Lennon” introduces the “Paul McCartney” as “him” at one point.

That’s pretty strange, but then again so is spending an evening in the company Let It Be at a theatre on a street so closely tied to Beatles’ history. Diagonally opposite the Prince of Wales, closer to Piccadilly Circus, is the building which used to be the London Pavilion, the cinema which hosted the premieres of A Hard Day’s Night and Help! History hangs heavy hereabouts.

Let It Be Michael Gagliano as John LennonAlthough all four are facially dissimilar to The Beatles, the quartet on stage look the part (a keyboard player is seen after a while - he plays no part in the dress-up). Hair, clothes and characteristics are what would be expected (pictured right, Michael Gagliano as John Lennon, photo by Birgit & Ralf Brinkhoff). The show though is not what would be expected in a West End riddled with jukebox musicals. Let It Be has no trumped-up plot, no wafer-thin narrative. The fake Fabs play the songs (mostly) live in batches defined by each Beatle period.

The audio-visuals between the groups of songs are annoying. And lazy. No Beatles’ music is heard, but that of The Monkees is. Using America’s Beatles’ analogue in a tribute show to the real thing verges on the bonkers. An ad for the US shampoo Prell is seen. The hippy era is signified by “Get Together”, a song meaning little to a British audience. Couldn’t an effort have been made to Anglicise what’d been cooked up by the show’s American originators?

What’s most grievous though is the lack of spark exhibited by band before the interval. They catch fire momentarily for “A Hard Day’s Night”, when the Paul wakes up. But it’s only about 40 minutes in that things gel in a sequence hung around the 1965 Shea Stadium concert. “Help!” finds all four playing together as a band for the first time, rather than playing their parts. Earlier, the lack of engagement was underlined by the harmonica parts in “Please Please me” and “From Me to You “ being played by an unseen keyboard.

Drilling Beatles’ mannerisms into a newly-assembled quartet does not guarantee capturing the magic

Thankfully, it picked up after the interval. A White Album-driven unplugged sequence with the band on stools was magnificent, with “Blackbird" and “The Two of Us” shining hard. The George's guitar on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” was a tour de force. Finally in top gear for the home stretch, the band cooked on “Come Together”, “Back in the USSR” and “Revolution”. The closing “Let it Be" and “Hey Jude” were as good.

Let It Be is difficult to get to grips with as it’s not possible to be sure what you’ll see: two sets of Beatles are employed for the run. The one seen by theartsdesk was John Brosnan (George), Michael Gagliano (John), Ian B. Garcia (Paul) and Phil Martin (Ringo). The cast was assembled after open auditions - covered by theartsdesk. This didn’t mean those chosen for Let It Be were necessarily neophytes: Brosnan has been playing George since 1999 and Gagliano was in the psyche-pop band The Sails, a band with a neat way in channelling Revolver-era Beatles.

Those behind Let It Be are Rain, a Beatles’ tribute band from LA that formed in the mid-1970s. They were central to the Beatlemania show, which opened on Broadway in 1977. Let It Be is a reconfigured version of their recent Broadway show, also titled Rain. Franchising their tribute show, in the style of Mamma Mia! (which Let It Be replaces at the Prince of Wales) or Jersey Boys, has meant Rain have lost sight of the fact that The Beatles were a band, defined by the dynamic between four individuals. They fed off one another. Drilling Beatles’ mannerisms into a newly assembled quartet does not guarantee capturing the magic.

The songs which have unified the world can cast their spell but, as performed in Let It Be, not enough of them do so. If seeing these songs performed live is enough, then Let It Be does its job. But if you’re looking for more, disappointment awaits.

  • Let It Be is at the Prince of Wales Theatre until 19 January 2013
It’s only about 40 minutes in that things gel when 'Help!' finds all four playing together as a band for the first time


Editor Rating: 
Average: 3 (1 vote)

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Saw this show on Saturday 26th July and it was fantastic. The george harrison part played by John Brosnan was a fantastic guitarist and I feel he is one of the best I have ever seen. I am a guitarist and felt like burning my guitar after listening to John. Wonderful show.

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