Guest contributor Demetra M. Pappas goes on a magical mystery tour with the reincarnated Beatles.
Let It Be: A Celebration of the Music of the Beatles began as a tribute to the 50th anniversary of the release of the Beatles first record (Please Please Me) in 1963, and like the Beatles, has crossed The Pond to America. This is not a musical with a book story line. Rather, it is a rock concert, with four amiable young men who pay the audience the compliment of not trying to look exactly like the original Fab Four. Reuven Gershon as John Lennon is a particular standout, perhaps in part because in actuality Lennon was the first to step away from the uniformity of the foursome (in this production, that is signified when John wears a costume the same as the others, but sports a black leather hat, as well).
While the set is simple (guitars, mikes, drums, piano and keyboards to the side), set designer Tim McQuillan Wright engages in an exceptional stage curtain conceit – black and white television screens that loop scenes of screaming, fainting women, some being carried away, some being restrained. Wright also implements an old fashioned AM/FM radio. Two televisions mounted at the top of the stage alternate loops as well as the on-stage performances and add another nice bit of retro-tech design.
There has been a fair amount of criticism that Let it Be is linear in its presentation of pop to political, whereas the albums themselves were not necessarily so. The most misleading is that the Beatles decided to become more serious with “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band,” and then in costumes from the album cover, they perform “Eleanor Rigby” from the earlier album “Revolver.” Act II goes back and forth between albums, rather than taking a chronological approach. That said, the thematic organization is, perhaps, poetic license with chronology. I found the frequent costume (and wig… and facial hair) changes, meant to reflect albums and time frames, pleasant cues and am pretty confident that younger audience members found them essential. Jason Lyons’ lighting design promoted this, and particularly culminated at the end of Act I with the psychedelic approach to “A Day in the Life.”
Last summer, I saw a Beatles Classical Mystery Tour with the San Francisco Symphony. That program included, unlike Let It Be, commentary and conversation and the San Francisco Symphony as background music was admittedly superior. Funnily enough, both performances included “Hey Jude” with organized audience participation that rang through the rafters (Sound designer Gareth Owen may want to dial the sound back a notch, especially in Act II, rather than cranking it up to deafening proportions).
For a relatively harmless retrospective of the Beatles’ catalog, Let it Be is an entertaining (if not completely satisfying) interpretation of one of the 20th century’s greatest influences in popular music.
Let It Be
St. James Theater
246 West 44th Street
Demetra M. Pappas, JD, MSc, PhD, writes about travel, theater and the arts, cultural and historical experiences, and also writes academic work on euthanasia/assisted suicide, stalking, visual sociology and dramaturgy; her first book, The Euthanasia/Assisted Suicide Debate (Greenwood Press, 2012) was nominated and short listed for the 2013 British Society of Criminology Book Prize.