Dallas — It’s only been a few years since we all clapped our hands at the resurrection of the Fab Four in Rain in its touring production at the Music Hall in Fair Park. Now we have a similar nostalgia-nourishing show that originated in London and opened on Broadway in 2013. The current touring show, mounted by Annerin Productions, is stopping at the Dallas Summer Musicals through March 19, and moving to Bass Hall in Fort Worth from March 21 to 26.
Let It Be: A Celebration of the Music of the Beatles opens with the band’s famed appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, followed by the Shea Stadium concert in 1965. TV monitors on either side of the stage crackle with familiar old black and white footage of teenagers collapsing in seizures of adolescent ecstasy when the band sings early hits, including “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” “Help!” and “I Saw Her Standing There.” Then Paul sings his swoon-inducing “Yesterday,” and female rock-lovers young and old sigh in unison.
The band had virtually everybody who could stand in the Music Hall on their feet and clapping hands to “Day Tripper” within a half hour of the first drum riff. Admittedly, the guys did a lot of urging, but it paid off. This crowd came ready to rock and remember. They just needed some clear cue-ins, including when to sway with your phone lights held high and when to join in a familiar chorus. Not concert-spontaneous, but still fun to move to the beat.
The four musicians in the show form a first-rate cover band, and are solid musicians in their own right, although Let It Be doesn’t strive as much for physical look-alikes as earlier Beatles tribute shows I’ve seen. Neil Candelora looks the most like a young Paul McCartney, and has a sweet smile and clear tenor on solos.
I knew Chris McBurney was Ringo Star because he was playing drums. Duh. JT Curtis, wigged and mustached as George Harrision, plays a mean guitar, especially in his big solo number in Act II, but he looks like a plumper Paul and appeared stiff and uncomfortable moving around the stage during all the numbers. Michael Gagliano singing John Lennon’s parts is better in ensemble than in solo, although he delivered a clear and strong “Imagine,” a powerful anthem that calls for simplicity. Short and stocky, Gagliano instantly becomes more convincing after the group moves to later works, when John has long hair and his trademark white suit, and singing “Come Together.”
For me, the show’s highlight is the Sgt. Pepper set toward the end of the second act, when the band delivers the goods in their brilliant rainbow-colored costumes. The haze in the air diffuses appearance, and all you hear is the sequence of still-edgy music and lyrics. “A Day in the Life” has colored strobes and front-facing lights and felt like a real head-trip.
The second act purports to bring us the show the Beatles never performed, an imaginary reunion concert that took place in 1980. The band played their last live show in 1969, made more music together, and eventually broke up and the members went their separate ways, musically. To this point, the show moves chronologically through the albums. In Act II the songs are selected from their careers together and apart. Great songs include “Back in the U.S.S.R,” “Live and Let Die,” and other less familiar songs. Everybody sang along to “Hey Jude” and were happily led through four swaying choruses of ”Let It Be.”
Even the darker songs in the Beatles songbook are ultimately hopeful. Perhaps their enduring popularity and continued fan base, generations later, is not only because of their melodious originality, but also because of their essential optimism about humanity’s ability to discover beauty and love in the world and each other.
Hearing the old songs is a boot to the heart and soul in these trying, unpredictable times. Ironically, while we know John Lennon’s own life was cut short by a crazed assassin, for the duration of the song at least, we believe along with the singer that “everything’s gonna be alright.”