Death, it has often been said, is a good career move. And never more so than when a pop superstar – Elvis, Michael Jackson – dies. The second-best career move may be dissolution: one of the main reasons The Beatles retain their brand lustre is that they broke up at their peak. No geezer-rock tours for them.
Instead, we have theatrical extravaganzas that attempt to recreate the Good Young Days. Watching Let It Be, a perfunctory yet enjoyable Broadway tribute musical that follows in the footsteps of another recent tribute musical, Rain (their similarities have sparked a lawsuit), is an exercise in evasion. For reasons of legality, the four mop-topped performers onstage at Broadway’s St James Theatre cannot call each other John or Paul or Ringo or George.
We must instead watch this two-hour-and-20-minute concert as it makes scant attempt to tell a story but relies on our collective memory to fill in the details. We begin in Liverpool at the Cavern Club and work our way through to the psychedelic years and the artistic culmination with the release of Abbey Road. Born as a West End production to celebrate the lads’ 50th anniversary, the musical uses rather rote projections to enhance the straight-ahead performances. The musicians are a talented lot, but no more so than the endless array of guys in Beatles tribute bands around the world.
My main objection to the song selection is the slighting of the Revolver LP, which regularly tops lists of the Greatest Rock Records of All Time. Of the 40 or so tunes here, I confess that I knew every word. I can say the same about another new Broadway show, Motown, which similarly employs a 1960s catalogue of pop genius. I must admit, however, that I had a livelier time at Let It Be, mostly owing to its stripped-down construction. Motown is bankrupted by its book.
By using a concert format, in which the Beatles impersonators encourage the audience to stand up, the crowd is engaging in the activity they are forced to pursue, sotto voce, at Motown: sing along. Watching the crowd belt out Beatles numbers was a touching communal experience, especially when the children in my audience got involved. You haven’t experienced joy until you’ve observed a six-year-old boy jump around on his seat while screaming, “Get back, Loretta!”