This Monday, July 15, 2013, photo provided by The Hartman Group shows James Fox performing “Yesterday” in the rock musical “Let It Be” at the St. James Theater in New York. Reuven Gershon and Fox have some insanely daunting shoes to fill: Every night, they’re asked to impersonate John and Paul on Broadway. Gershon and Fox portray, respectively, John Lennon and Paul McCartney in a Fab Four cover band that has taken its concert show, “Let It Be,” from London’s West End to New York. (AP Photo/The Hartman Group, Chad Batka)
NEW YORK (AP) — Even fake Beatles can bring back good memories of the real thing, when they’re truly talented.
The Beatles, arguably one of the most talented and influential bands in musical history, produced a treasure trove of unforgettable tunes. Mostly written by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, their dozens of classic hits include “Yesterday,” ”Hey, Jude,” ”Get Back,” ”Come Together” and “Let it Be.”
If you can check your nostalgia at the door, the tribute show “Let It Be” that opened Wednesday night on Broadway at the St. James Theatre stands on its own as a lively, multimedia concert and a rocking good time. A rotating cast of 10 accomplished musicians recreate the Beatles onstage, performing concert or studio versions of 40 of their songs.
Starting with the early Cavern Club days in Liverpool, they skillfully progress through pop songs performed on the “Ed Sullivan Show” to the colorful psychedelic era of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” to the end times of “Abbey Road.”
Projections of authentic, carefully edited news clips provide glimpses of the increasingly turbulent social times during the band’s years together, through the 1960s to their early 1970 breakup. Due to copyright issues, the Beatles’ real names are never used either in the program or during the 2½-hour-long show, nor is the word “Beatles” heard or seen onstage.
But there’s no question who these enthusiastic musicians are portraying. In fact, it’s a little creepy for those who were around during the originals to see the two deceased Beatles accurately reincarnated. Visually invoking Lennon, Reuven Gershon performs with appropriate cool, while John Brosnan is nicely intense as lead guitarist George Harrison.
Enacting still-living Beatles, James Fox incorporates eye-rolling, winking mannerisms and soaring vocals reminiscent of the young McCartney, while drummer Luke Roberts has a head-bopping good time as Ringo Starr. Those four musicians performed in an energetic preview that often had the crowd up on its feet, clapping and singing along.
The alternating cast includes Graham Alexander, Ryan Coath and Chris McBurney. Ryan Alex Farmery hovers cheerfully in the background, handling keyboards in rotation with John Korba and Daniel A. Weiss.
There’s not much dialogue, aside from some merry onstage banter and a few philosophical musings, and the show doesn’t pretend at all to cover the storied history of the band, preferring to focus on the music. Musical supervisor and U.S. director John Mahr oversees a variety of musical styles, including a complex orchestral simulation for “A Day In the Life” and a lovely segment of acoustic songs capped by “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.”
The production is visually appealing, with an array of colorful, sometimes trippy graphics and the grainy news clips or photos projected above, behind and sometimes all around the band. Psychedelic images dance up and down the theater walls during favorites like “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and “With a Little Help From My Friends.” For rear audience members, close-ups of the singers often appear on quaint-looking television screens hanging atop the proscenium.
The “Let It Be” tribute debuted last fall at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Beatles, so the show didn’t take “The Long and Winding Road” to get to Broadway. In “The End,” the audience can “Come Together” over seminal lyrics like “The love you take/is equal to the love you make.” And take away the thought that, as the Beatles pointed out so long ago, “All You Need Is Love.”