The show doesn’t attempt anything ambitious, the music speaks for itself- they have just Let it Be the way it is and this is exactly right.
So, the first thing to note before going to see this show is that it is not a musical. I shrink from a term that unfairly triggers images of overweight oldies in lycra singing Abba songs but Let it Be is, for all intents and purposes, a tribute act to The Beatles – but a good one.
When you step into the auditorium you are immediately transported back in time with music from the 60’s and 70’s, when the majority of your fellow audience members were in their prime. The show progresses in a chronological fashion, beginning in 60’s Liverpool and tracking the changing sound and fashion of The Beatles through their hippy days all the way to the weird ethereal feel of some of their later music. In this way, the second half paled in comparison to the first, but that’s just due to my personal preference for their earlier sound.
The music itself was fantastic. Although the harmonies weren’t quite as strong as I expected in their first number, the singers quickly got into it and produced a brilliant sound. Each cast member had big shoes to fill, but did a fantastic impression of the Famous 4. Special mention goes to Emanuele Angeletti who played Paul very authentically and with a lot of love. All the cast actually played their own instruments, which I loved. There was no fiddling with the songs themselves, no attempt to recycle them into something new and this was exactly as it should be. Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it! The central idea is that they perform in some of their more famous venues, such as the Shea Stadium, which was created simplistically with a stadium backdrop and floodlights, with the actual audience playing the part of the screaming hordes of Beatles-crazed fans. A nice idea, but dampened somewhat by the creaking sounds emanating from the joints of a large proportion of your fellow audience members as they try to play their part. Although, credit where it’s due, once they got dancing they could really move!
As a history student, the thought that most of my fellow audience members had probably participated in Beatlemania was fascinating and I did get a little kick out of seeing them relive their youth. I also loved the retro TV screens they had erected above the curtains that showed real footage of the Beatles. They also displayed genuine adverts as a nice cover for transitions and costume-changes. This was a really lovely touch that continued to recreate the era in the theatre. In terms of catering to their mainly older audience this was done well, especially in regards to the volume of the music. As someone who has watched many a show and movie with my very elderly grandma, if the music is too loud it causes discomfort but too quiet and they struggle. The sound levels were just perfect, well balanced between vocals and instruments, and loud enough to create a concert atmosphere without deafening.
However, as part of involving the audience in the show there were many occasions where lights were shone directly at the audience. I found this quite uncomfortable because the lights were painfully bright and there were a few grumbles from other members of the audience. By all means swing lights to create effect but, unless you intend for this to be the last show the audience ever see, perhaps dim them slightly so people don’t stumble out blind.
In my opinion, the show doesn’t quite go far enough when it comes to documenting the story of the Beatles. I am not a Beatles expert in any way, I went into the performance with a really high regard for their music and I came out with that admiration very much intact, but none the wiser about the band itself. The official program has a very useful timeline that documents the Beatles over 50 years, however, more of this could have been included in the show itself. Similarly, there were a couple of spoken exchanges between the performers that gave a lovely glimpse into their characters. These were really enjoyable but far too scarce. A greater display of the story and character of the band in both of these aspects would help to move this show further away from the realm of tribute acts and bring in a new audience of people that are normally put off by the unjustly negative connotations of a ‘tribute act’.
Overall, a very enjoyable show. Exactly what you’d expect with great performances of loads of fantastic Beatles songs. Dancing and clapping is encouraged from the beginning and you are guaranteed to smile your way through it. The show doesn’t attempt anything ambitious, the music speaks for itself- they have just Let it Be the way it is and this is exactly right.
Let It Be is currently playing at the London Garrick Theatre.