Director and Musical Supervisor: John Maher
Reviewer: Mark Clegg
Tribute shows are perhaps too common these days, with many regional theatres seeming to host one every couple of weeks. Many are based on the back catalogue of performers whose repertoire simply doesn’t deserve such scrutiny. And then there is The Beatles, arguably the greatest and most influential band of all time. Let It Be attempts to take on the unenviable job of being the definitive Beatle tribute and, thankfully, it succeeds brilliantly.
The cast of (the fab) fouris unequivocally superb. Each performer possesses outstanding musical skills and is able to portray their respective band member perfectly both vocally and as a character. Dominating much of the set is Ian B Garcia’s Paul, equally at home belting the lead vocals in the big songs as he is standing on stage alone to perform sincere renditions of Blackbird and Yesterday. Paul Canning’s portrayal of John is cheeky and fun but also able to capture the audience’s rapt attention in numbers like Penny Lane and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. Paul Mannion gives excellent support throughout as George but also has his moments in the spotlight including the lovely Here Comes the Sun and the show-stopping While My Guitar Gently Weeps. Stuart Wilkinson has the least to work with as Ringo but still makes an impression with his flawless drumming as well as with his amusing Yellow Submarine. A fifth member of the band lurks in the shadows – Michael Bramwell providing instrumental brass and strings back-up.
The show has no real narrative and instead opts for presenting Paul, John, George and Ringo at various stages in their career together. Time and mood are effectively set with projected archive footage, and each section is staged as an actual live appearance by the band. Although the songs are the main focus here, we are also treated to some amusing snippets of banter and audience participation is very much encouraged. Avoiding telling the story of the band also avoids the controversy they sometimes courted, creative differences, the inevitable split, and John’s tragic death. This is very much a celebration of the music and one does not need apolitical or historical background to appreciate it.
While the performers themselves are entertaining to watch, this is still really only four people on a stage singing and playing instruments for two hours (albeit brilliantly). There is no choreography; however, visually, the show is never less than captivating helped by a string of costume and scenic changes, some excellent projections (both archive and newly commissioned animations) and Humphrey McDermott’s frankly breath-taking lighting design. From the simplicity of the opening scene in The Cavernto the psychedelic Sgt Pepper sequence and the over-the-top joy of the finale, McDermott’s work comes away as the real star of the show and acts as icing on a very professionally produced cake.
In an age of countless tribute acts appearing at regional theatres, it is easy to miss a treasure. Whether a Beatles fan or not, this is one that you definitely should not miss.
Runs until 14 May 2016 | Image: David Munn