07/24/2013 06:47 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2013

First Nighter: Beatles Tribute "Let It Be" Disappoints, as Does "Nobody Loves You" Tuner

On behalf of Let It Be, described as "a celebration of the music of the Beatles," I don't have much to say. Why would I? I'm a longtime, dyed-in-the-vinyl Beatles fan.

How much of a fan? For starters I was at the Shea Stadium concert in 1965 (you do the math) and know that the way in which that great event in the history of concerts is represented on the St. James stage is highly inaccurate. As performed here, the music is heard, But, folks, nothing -- not a guitar chord, not a drum paradiddle -- was heard at Shea Stadium. Nothing at all could be heard over the girls' screaming. That din began when the helicopter in which the Fab Four arrived was spotted on the horizon, continued until the Moptops' 35-minute show concluded and went on until they fled to the helicopter, it ascended and finally vanished.

Granted, it would be some kind of foolishness to replicate those conditions for today's paying customers. But maybe not. Maybe doing something to indicate the breadth of Beatlemania for today's audiences would be more intriguing than the glorified cover band presentation being offered--the glorification courtesy of set designer Tim McQuillen-Wright's changing backdrops Jason Lyons laser-enhanced lighting and Duncan McLean's extensive video design.

The globe's most famous 20th-century foursome broke up 43 years ago. So some ticket buyers already approaching middle age weren't yet alive then. Perhaps the producers of this tepid production are figuring, "Who will know the difference between what the Beatles stood for then and what they stand for now? Why do anything more creative than have four young men play who may or may not bear a resemblance to the original group?"

I suppose having the four fellows on stage -- who are perhaps even better musicians than John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison and Ringo Starr were when they began--perform a Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band medley makes some kind of theatrical sense. It doesn't in the context of the album's origin, however. The LP, which often tops lists of all-time great albums, was made expressly so it couldn't be performed live and never was by them. In terms of Beatles chronology, it marks their decision to cease performing in person and establish themselves as a studio band.

But heigh-ho, clearly no one involved with Let It Be took more than a "let it be" attitude towards looking seriously into the Beatles story. The sole aim is reprising the music and, in doing so, making certain that patrons are convinced they've had a good time. Otherwise, why would the men pretending to be Paul, John, George and Ringo keep pressing audience members to clap along? Otherwise, why do they keep asking how the crowd is liking the show?
On second thought, maybe the foursome here is sort of not pretending to be Paul et al, since John Brosnan, Reuven Gershon, James Fox and Luke Roberts -- whom I saw but others are listed in the program -- are pointedly not listed as individual Beatles but as "musicians." Apparently, only their hairdressers know for sure.

The honest-to-goodness Paul, John, George and Ringo never had to exhort fans to pandemonium. It was, as noted above, already well underway.. Nor did they request that fans wave their raised arms in time to the music. That visual--which can look like something a pack of the undead might do--is a later concert-hall development.

If Let It Be has any value at all for a purist like me, it's as a reminder that the songwriting -- most of it Lennon-McCartney or Lennon or McCartney, to Harrison's detriment--is astonishing. The early chart-toppers like "Love Me Do" and "I Want to Hold Your Hand" are brightly derivative, of course, and bring to mind, among other influences, predecessors like Buddy Holly. But when the songs from their second movie, Help!, were released, a fresh sophistication could be heard foreshadowing the unbridled freedom and originality cropping up through Revolver, Rubber Soul, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band and The White Album.

When McCartney formed Wings, he obviously wanted to reclaim rock-band status, but much of what he, Lennon and Harrison wrote when they became untouchables -- in large part due to George Martin's guidance--left rock 'n' roll to one side, if not behind. For one example, what, if anything, does "Blackbird" have to do with rock? More than that, has a better song about death ever been written?

Let It Be repeats many of the Beatles triumphs, while for understandable reasons (this is a concert meant to get ticket buyers to their feet) it stresses the hotter numbers. Not stressed are the reflective love songs like "We Can Work It Out" and "For No One." They're examinations of failed affairs that rank highly on anyone's list of wise heart-breakers. (Included surprisingly but undoubtedly for peace and love appeal: "Give Peace a Chance," which Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote and which the Beatles never sang.

I get it that the Beatles Songbook is so chockful of winners (are there any losers?) that some faves of mine are left out--"Penny Lane" say, which is noted on the show curtain, "She's Leaving Home" and "Yellow Submarine." Nevertheless, where Let It Be as a Broadway theater entry is concerned, I agree with Paul McCartney and Mother Mary in advising, "Let it be."

It's difficult to discern whether librettist-lyricist Itamar Moses and composer-lyricist Gaby Alter wanted to satirize The Bachelorette type reality television series with Nobody Loves You or just had in mind crafting a love story with a reality show background. Trying to do both, they've only come up with an unsatisfying neither/nor.

Having lost girlfriend Tanya (Leslie Kritzer) because he disdains her favorite show, also called "Nobody Loves You," Jeff (Bryan Fenkart) becomes a contestant on the show. Guess what! His negative attitude towards appearing makes him a favored contestant, but contrarily he falls not for another contestant but for show assistant Jenny (Aleque Reid).

That's really all worth knowing about the tuner -- the tunes for which have enough rock propulsion to liven things somewhat but aren't very good. Indeed, Jeff's imploring 11 o'clock ballad, which ends with a caterwauled melisma, is one of the worst songs heard from a stage in some time.
Redeeming features under Michelle Tattenbaum's direction, are the appealing performances. The best of them are Heath Calvert's impersonation of an airhead emcee (the dim-witted character has the best lines; maybe the show should have been about him) and Leslie Kritzer. Kritzer, who also plays the skillfully insincere "Nobody Loves You" producer, always stands out no matter what enterprise she's in. Here, she does it again.