"Let it be" are the words of wisdom that part of me whispers to myself while contemplating the newest Beatles tribute concert to reach Broadway, which in fact calls itself Let It Be (at the St. James). Here is a survey of the career of the Fab Four, from The Cave in Liverpool to the bitter end. Four singers who kinda sound like the Beatles and kinda look like the Beatles, but none of whom would likely be mistaken for any of them. Song after song after song, interspersed with multimedia breaks featuring vintage TV commercials and protest footage while the boys change their clothes and their not-very-convincing wigs. And, Lord help us, sideburns.
Lots of songs, 40 by my count. I didn't have much else to do, while sitting there, other than count the songs. This is not one of those shows where enthusiastic audience members leap out of their seats to twist and shout; here the cast literally commands the audience to leap and shout, once in each act. Many, but by no means all, of the patrons do.
If this format seems familiar to Broadwaygoers, there's good reason: Rain, the last Beatles tribute show on Broadway, recently enjoyed a successful 10-month run (closing just two years ago this week). The shows are similar but different, if you know what I mean; the songs, the characters, the "look" are all alike, but there are certain elements that obviously need appear in all Beatles tribute shows.
As for those characters -- John, Paul, George and Ringo -- they are very much in evidence but unnamed. For legal reasons, presumably; it seems that you can license the Beatles songs far more easily than you can license the Beatles themselves. What makes Let It Be unconventional -- for Broadway, anyway -- is that the actual performers in the show are unidentified. The Playbill lists ten "musicians." Five are onstage, one of them -- the keyboard player who joins the boys for the second act -- is specifically introduced by his real name during the performance. The others, though, are anybody's guess. The McCartney stand-in at the preview attended is easily identifiable from his program photo as Graham Alexander; the others merely look like actor head-shots without Beatles hairdos. One would guess that there are two separate casts that alternate as the band. But who was that singing the Lennon songs and wearing the Lennon granny glasses?
Let It Be will presumably please the folk who enjoy watching Beatles tribute bands, of whom there are quite a few. If these people want to come to town and pay Broadway prices for this sort of thing, all the better. The Broadway community is glad to have the business and the jobs it generates, especially when it is an interim booking in a theatre with a new Broadway musical already scheduled for the spring.
The most interesting element of the evening, it turns out, is the battle behind it. Rain -- the group, which has been doing Beatles tribute concerts for 30-odd years -- followed their Broadway gig by joining with London producers for a similar show on the West End. The London Let It Be was produced by a combination of Broadway Rain producers and previously unconnected producers, directed by Joey Curatolo (who played a convincing Paul McCartney in the Broadway Rain). The new show opened in September at the Prince of Wales and has enjoyed a profitable run, despite a mediocre reception. The Rain people and the Let It Be people, alas, have fought and battled and sued, to the point where the second tribute show insists that it has nothing to do with the first.
There is more to come on the legal front, especially if the new show turns into a hit. The Beatles themselves, and their representatives, seem content to simply collect the sizable music royalties and -- to borrow a recurrent phrase of wisdom -- let it be.