Let It Be The Musical returns to The Playhouse Theatre Edinburgh this week (Monday 8th to Saturday 13th October) with a much needed format update that has both positive and negative impacts on the overall show. As a musical stage show, Let It Be for me is never a true musical in my opinion, but a collection of Beatles songs with almost no story line. It is at best a “jukebox musical” that always treads a very thin line between being a stage show and just another Beatles “tribute band” show with some added production visuals and better costumes. Having said all of that though, the show celebrates the music of The Beatles in the only true way possible, through their music, and it gives the audience exactly what they came to hear, classic song after song with little interruption in-between.
Our “Beatles” story is told in straight chronological time, and many of the big career markers are there. The 1963 Royal Variety performance, Shea Stadium USA, Sgt Pepper’s and the performance atop the Apple building are all there with many of the now iconic songs that we would expect to hear. Normally this is pretty much the show with the format being Act 1 – Beatles as a touring band and Act 2 - Sgt Pepper’s and the rooftop concert.
With the new show format, we have all of this in the first half, and the second half of the show given over to an imaginary “What If” Beatles re-union concert for John Lennon’s 40th birthday. This is where the show wins some extra points for me as it is taking the bold step to not only present Beatles songs, but songs from the later careers of individual members. To do this though, our first half is compressed and we have no days at the Cavern Club and lose maybe too many of the iconic songs from the early years. We oddly move here from the Royal Variety show straight into Paul playing “Yesterday” without any obvious clue that we have now moved forward in time to the first public performance of that song on The Ed Sullivan Show in the USA. Oddly too, our left handed guitar playing Paul becomes a right handed player on this semi acoustic guitar and later on switches again to right hand playing on this guitar for “Blackbird”. While on the subject of left handed/right handed players, it’s often forgotten that Ringo is also left handed and played drums with some unique patterns as a result of that.
Does the second half “fantasy concert” work? Yes and no is the answer to that one. This sequence is no more a fantasy concert than the Sgt Pepper’s songs being performed live, so I have no problems with its concept. At times, the re-union concert format and dialogue does seem rather “forced” but there is some great music there, much of it though on some obvious songs that “might have been”. I am not going to give any details of the new songs away as that should be a surprise for anyone going to the show. For me though, this fantasy re-union concert just proves one thing. Although it would have been one of the major concert events in history, the band were correct in deciding never to re-form and play together on stage. I can hear so many Beatles fans shouting out in horror at that last statement, but I have my reasons, and these are a few of them.
- The Beatles were a perfect band for their time and somehow captured the spirit and the people of that time perfectly like no other band ever did, but times and the world around them had changed, and that perfect moment had simply gone.
- Part of what made The Beatles music so amazing was its careful and inventive structure and how musical and vocal harmonies combined to create something special. On original band songs created for the band, these structures still work, but on many of the later individual songs not created for “The Beatles” individual strengths as musicians and performers, something is missing.
- Although the individual members of The Beatles always had clearly individual identities, they were still a collective whole picture of a band, but by the time of this re-union concert everyone had grown up and developed into so many different directions as musicians and people that we now have four very different people on-stage. Would the real Beatles still have somehow managed to retain that old magic? That we will never know and perhaps it is best that way.
- Perhaps the most important thing is though that George, Paul, John and Ringo had been The Beatles and done something no one could ever have imagined (even them). They had all moved on as people and musicians, so why would they ever want to return to the past. They were right in looking always (as their music did) to the future.
The one important thing that this re-union concert does show though is that post Beatles period, John, Paul, George and Ringo continued to be creative forces in music as individuals. The Beatles story did not stop when the band broke up. There is of course a huge sadness that this imaginary concert was for John’s 40th birthday (October 9th 1940) and this is so close to his assassination on the 8th December 1980.
Another nice addition to this show is an extended “Abbey Road” songs sequence complete with a bare footed Paul for the songs. A right handed playing and bare footed Paul, the conspiracy theorists are going to love this show!
Our “Let It Be” Fab Four, Emanuele Angeletti (Paul), John Brosnan (George) , Ben Cullingworth (Ringo) and Michael Gagliano (John) are very good here, and Michael Bramwell, musical director and supervisor also adds some good keyboards in this show whenever required to add to the music.
It has to be mentioned that this is a “live performance” show. All of our performers are playing their instruments live and doing it well, and it is often forgotten that although you can simplify most Beatles songs musically and they still sound like their songs, the music of the Beatles is anything but simple and has complex layers of structure and harmony running all through it. Individually, Paul, John, Ringo and George were (still are) hugely talented musicians. Few bass guitar players out there at the time in bands were playing anywhere near Paul’s level of musicianship for example, and we often forget too, just how young they were to be so musically proficient.
I’m not listing the songs in this show, we all know them, and our Let It Be band do a great job with them all. Just as importantly though, the band engage directly with their audience to give everyone a real “feel good” night out via some of the most memorable music in pop history.
Review by Tom King