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Beatles Music Back on Broadway Despite Lawsuit: Stage

'Let It Be'
Musicians James Fox, from left, John Brosnan and Reuven Gershon as members of The Beatles in the rock musical "Let it Be" at the St. James Theater. The show features 41 Beatles songs. Photographer: Chad Batka/The Hartman Group PR via Bloomberg

July 25 (Bloomberg) -- The title “Let It Be” suggests a departure from the formulaic Beatles tribute. Maybe a drama about the recording of the final album that the band released and the tensions that drove the four apart?

No such luck. The show at the St. James Theatre breaks no new ground. Its producers were even sued in Manhattan federal court for copyright infringement by a producer of Broadway’s last dreary Beatles tribute, the 2010 “Rain.”

A spokesman for “Let It Be,” which opened last year on the West End, declined to comment about the suit.

“Let It Be” opens with “I Saw Her Standing There” and ends with “Hey Jude.” In between are 39 songs, virtually all hits that the most casual Beatles fan could’ve compiled. (Nearly two dozen were also performed in “Rain.”)

High-volume and fast-paced, it begins in the Cavern, the Liverpool club where the quartet got its start as a cover band.

It moves to the stage of the Ed Sullivan show, Shea Stadium and, when the songs are ones the Beatles didn’t play live, to fantasy locations, aided by projections and voiceovers.

Cute wigs, prim suits and genial mannerisms abound before giving way to Eastern influences and psychedelia. In the show I saw (a 10-member cast rotates roles) Graham Alexander as Paul McCartney bobbled his head to convey boyishness and innocence (but sometimes seemed to be aping Stevie Wonder). John Brosnan was all stoic business as George Harrison.

No Fighting

The show proceeds chronologically from the early innocent rock influenced by Chuck Berry and others to the more experimental songs that changed pop music. The patter is kept to a minimum and these Fab Four get along from beginning to end.

Although the musicianship is proficient and vocal range is impressive, seldom does the show rise above what London critic Michael Billington called “faintly necrophiliac nostalgia.”

I did enjoy absurd black-and-white 1960s television commercials played on monitors during a set break, for products such as Carnation Instant Breakfast and Pall Mall cigarettes.

A high point is “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Introducing it, Brosnan, in character, points out that Eric Clapton handled lead guitar in the song’s recording session and questioned whether he, George, was up to the task.

He is, to the audience’s delight. The moment is no less gaudy than the rest of the show. But resistance is futile when hearing a favorite Beatles tune -- even when played by impersonators.

At 246 W. 44th St. Information: +1-212-239-6200; http://www.telecharge.com. Rating: **


What the Stars Mean:

*****  Fantastic
****   Excellent
***    Good
**     So-So
*      Poor
(No stars) Avoid

(Philip Boroff is a reporter for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Jason Harper on cars and Rich Jaroslovsky on tech.

To contact the writer of this column: Philip Boroff at pboroff@bloomberg.net.

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Manuela Hoelterhoff at mhoelterhoff@bloomberg.net.

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