That, in case you missed it, was Rain, the 2010 concert extravaganza named after a tribute band that was itself a byproduct of 1977's Beatlemania. Like Rain, Let It Be, which opened Wednesday at the St. James Theatre, casts actor/musicians as John, Paul, George and Ringo and follows the lads, in performance, through the different stages of their relatively brief but remarkably prolific career.
Creators of Rain, in fact, filed suit against producers of Let It Be in June, contending that the latter show borrows many elements from the former one and asking for a 50/50 split of the revenue and joint authorship credit for the Rain Corp., which represents the group.
Yet while the shows are strikingly similar in tone and structure — right down to the hokey early-'60s TV commercials and images of flower children and Vietnam that flash on video screens between sets, showing us the changing times that accompanied The Beatles' reign — there's a certain irony in claiming creative ownership of a purely re-creative act.
Let It Be, which premiered in London last year, aspires to be nothing more than a nostalgia trip, and as such it's about as engaging as you could expect. The show features a rotating roster of performers; at a recent preview, John Brosnan, James Fox, Reuven Gurshon and Luke Roberts played the blokes from Liverpool, giddily shaking their moptops in early scenes at the Cavern Club and on The Ed Sullivan Show before evolving into more reflective hippies, with suitable costume changes.
The playbill doesn't identify which characters the cast members play, which is just as well, given the simplistic representations here. Gurshon's John Lennon is, of course, the dry one, providing a constant foil to the boyish charm of Fox's Paul McCartney, who keeps telling the crowd, "Thank you very mooch."
Roberts' Ringo Starr is endearingly goofy, while as George Harrison, Brosnan plays the beatific searcher, at one point offering a peace sign and a greeting of "Hare Krishna." The between-song patter can seem as contrived as their accents, and there are patronizing appeals to older audience members — as when Lennon asks if they remember "when CDs were black" and had two sides, holding up an old LP with reverent affection.
Luckily, Let It Be's company, which includes supporting musicians, is competent enough as singers and instrumentalists to make the numbers compelling. A few of Fox's high notes were shaky at the preview, and the energy sagged a bit during an Unplugged-style acoustic segment that included such haunting classics as Blackbird and Norwegian Wood.
But more driving, muscular favorites, from Ticket to Ride to Come Together, were executed with enough panache to make you appreciate their magic, even without fully recapturing it.
Which pretty much sums up both the appeal and the limitations of Let It Be — and other shows like it.
Elysa Gardner, USA TODAY