Let It Be: A Celebration of the Music of The Beatles

Let It Be: A Celebration of the Music of The Beatles

Presented by Stewart & Tricia Macpherson for Annerin Productions
Musical Direction by Allan Slutsky
The Civic, Auckland | March 26-April 5

Like anyone with any sense of what’s good for them, I love The Beatles. Preparing myself for the worst, I approached Let It Be with a healthy dose of scepticism. So how does a mere facsimile of the real thing hold up?

Surprisingly well, actually.

At its core, Let It Be is a testament to the songwriting and musical talent of The Beatles themselves. For the entire two-hour running time there is not one bad song. The Beatles have left behind an oeuvre so extensive and so high in quality the show could’ve gone on for the whole night with little complaint. It took a about half a dozen songs to wear down my own apprehensions, but by the time Yesterday came on I was hooked. There’s also no denying the one-two punch of hearing Blackbird and Strawberry Fields Forever back-to-back, or the heartrending performance of While My Guitar Gently Weeps.

While it might be The Beatles performed by a tribute band, this is certainly as good as it gets. The calibre of the musicians, Neil Candelora, Tyson Kelly, JT Curtis, Chris McBurney and Daniel A. Weiss, is nothing if not exceptional. If anything the polished sheen of the show is sometimes to its detriment, offering too crisp of a soundtrack that defeats the purpose of watching a live show. After all, we can always return to the albums themselves if we want to hear the song as we remember them. But, if the worst thing you can say about a show is that it’s too slick, then it can’t be that bad. And, for all its practiced perfection, it is never sterile.

With the assistance of wigs and makeup, there’s a passing resemblance to some of the original band members, though sometimes to the point of looking more like wax museum replicas than real life human beings. Attempts to capture personality are moderately successful though somewhat cheesy, but it’s what you’d expect from a tribute show where the essence of an artist is boiled down to a few catchphrases and an accent. Luckily the most important part of the band, the musicianship and vocals, is captured pitch perfectly. Almost eerily so.

Evaluated in theatrical terms, the show is not without some flashy lights, costume changes and fancy video projection, but it’s a stretch to call it theatre or a musical. There are efforts made to transport us back to the early days of The Beatles with old-school videos playing on appropriately outdated fake television sets, chronologically following the growth of the band itself. It’s a nice history lesson, though not particularly extensive, capturing kitsch more than conveying an era. Also, for better or for worse, it certainly makes no attempts to give us an insight into who the band members were as people, so those after a narrative backdrop for the music should look elsewhere. But it accomplishes what it sets out to achieve. It’s a crowd-pleasing tribute show that will charm old and new fans alike. And when the band you are paying tribute to is The Beatles, and you manage to do their music justice, audiences have very little to complain about.

Let It Be avoids the pitfalls of insincerity and soullessness that is sometimes unfairly attributed to tribute shows, often seen as little more than an easy cash cow. The only people who should steer clear of the show are those who don’t have much interest in The Beatles in the first place, but for those of us who do, the show sells itself. Perhaps the biggest compliment I can pay Let It Be, and certainly a measure of its success, is that I’ve found myself returning to The Beatles with a newfound enthusiasm.

What I’ve Been Up To

As of this year I’ve been appointed Auckland Theatre Editor over at the The Lumière Reader which means I’ve mostly been busy reviewing shows the past couple of months.

If you’re keen to check out my reviews…

Upcoming shows I’m looking forward to include: The return of last year’s musical success Daffodils, Three Beckett Shorts (Breath, That Time and Krapp’s Last Time) and ATC’s production of A Doll’s House. 

Also trying to use Twitter this year, so follow me for irregular updates:

Thoughts on The Crucible

Watched a filmed production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible on Sunday night. No doubt the production lost some of its theatrical magic with the transition onto the screen, but I can’t thank Digital Theatre enough for bringing this production to cinemas worldwide. Here are some of my quick thoughts on the stunning production:

Yael Farber’s production of Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is a primal force that tears at the seams of this classic play, usually remembered for its place on the dusty shelves of the American theatre canon than for its vivid storytelling.

The plot is simple: a group of young girls are caught dabbling in the dark arts. To save themselves they lie about having been possessed by the devil and proceed to accuse various others in the village of being witches. John Proctor, a well-meaning man becomes entangled in their lies when his wife is accused of being a witch. But, instead of merely being a play about the Salem witch trials we get the journey of a good man whose sense of self is tested and tortured.

Attempting to praise the uniformly excellent cast within this short non-review is an act of futility. Paragraphs upon paragraphs would be  required to do them justice. Richard Armitage is the definitive John Proctor, a walking bruised soul. But the rest of the cast are more than willing to match his level of performance. It is doubtful I will ever see a more conflicted Revered Samuel Parris, a more terrifying Abigail Williams, or a more stoic and frail Elizabeth Proctor. Even the various girls complicit in Abigail’s crimes are absolute perfection.

One suspects the keyword for the production Farber had in mind was VISCERAL; the atmosphere of the play easily surpasses the intensity of any conventional Hollywood thriller. The small town of Salem is a place of repressed emotions and waking nightmares, but it never feels that foreign, never feels like something out of a fairytale. We cannot forget that this is history, or that it is relevant today (and always).

Arthur Miller’s The Crucible is a demanding play at over 3 hours. But this is a definitive modern interpretation that never slogs. More theatre of cruelty than socio-poltical agitprop, Farber summons the claws of Artaud and grabs you by the throat, threatening to never let go.

Translating Rimbaud (An Excerpt from ‘A Season in Hell)

The following passage is my favourite from A Season in Hell:

Quant au bonheur établi, domestique ou non… non, je ne peux pas. Je suis trop dissipé, trop faible. La vie fleurit par le travail, vieille vérité : moi, ma vie n’est pas assez pesante, elle s’envole et flotte loin au-dessus de l’action, ce cher point du monde.

I immediately knew I wanted to use it as an epigraph for my current script. But I didn’t want to use somebody else’s translation. But I also don’t speak/read French. So, using the help of a literal translation thanks to Google, some other translations as guidelines, and the wisdom of some French-speakers on Facebook, I managed to come up with something of my own (a transcreation or bastardisation is probably the best way to describe it):

As for established happiness, domestic or otherwise… no, I cannot. I am too wasted, too weak. Life blossoms through labour, an old truth. Me, my life is weightless, it flies and floats far above action, that dear point of the world.

Not perfect. No translation ever is. But I think it captures the very things I liked about the passage when I first read it, as well as staying true to Rimbaud and myself.


A favourite passage from Leaves of Grass:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then….I contradict myself;
I am large….I contain multitudes.

Excerpts from Three Poems About a Father’s Hands

“These hands are my father’s hands but smaller”
—Why?, “These Hands”

“My father gave me these hands, fingers
inch-wide and muscular like his”
—Richard Blanco, “My Father, My Hands”

“These hands are my father’s hands these eyes
Excessively veined his eyes”
—Charles Wright, “Congenital”


Highlighted Sections II

(The following is a ‘found poem’ using the highlighted bits from a secondhand copy of Howard Barker’s Arguments for a Theatre.)

Literally and metaphorically
There is now no darkness
In the world.

The open society is
White and bright. It
Abhors the shadows. It
Violates the penumbra of privacy
In the name of access. It
Trespasses in the most secret chambers
Of grief and makes advertisements
Of pain.

Absolute light. Light
As a system. Light
As a regime.

The urge to participate in
‘light-throwing’ is something
To which few artists are immune, Indeed
It is a time-honoured instinct
Among dramatists with a pedigree
Reaching far beyond the great
Illuminators, Brecht and Shaw.

Let us talk to tragedy, for
It is the greatest of all art forms
And the most beautiful, And
For these reasons alone almost abolished
By the Illumination System, hating beauty
As it must and afraid of the dark
As an aged bachelor shudders at
The shadow on his door.

Populist democracy can tolerate
Very little of the active self, For
Self is no respecter of rights, and
Tragedy is the supreme moment of self
And the worst enemy of rights, it
Tramples rights, it is
After all is said and done, the
Illegal for of things.

Tragedy is not humanist
And intends no good to man.

Highlighted Sections I

(The following is a ‘found poem’ using the highlighted bits from a secondhand copy of Howard Barker’s Arguments for a Theatre.)

We are living
The extinction
Of official socialism.
When the opposition loses
Its politics, it must
Root in art.

In a bad time
Laughter is a rattle
Of fear.

Ideology is the outcome
Of pain.

When a child fell under a bus
They called it tragedy.
On the contrary, It
Was an accident.
We have had a drama of accidents 
Masquerading as tragedy.

It is never too late to
Forestall the death of Europe.


The Penis Elegies: The Seventh Elegy

I know not what I am now.
I know not what I could be.
I know not what I should be.

All I know is the lack of decency according to the common man’s principles. 
All I know is the decadence of my overpowering urges that take hold and strangle me.
All I know is the smell of musk that wafts from your pits, your sack, your every pore.
All  I know is the desperate need to hide in the shadows to pursue the forbidden fruit that is my sex, that is your flesh, that I have been told no, no, no for so long.
All I know is the games I play that exist to give birth to a confidence no real person can carry.

I know nothing of love songs
Just lust songs
My swan songs to the world.

The Penis Elegies: The Sixth Elegy

Rest it upon my shoulder for my conscience is missing
Let it crawl from the depths of hell to the roof of my mouth
Breathe it down into my lungs so I may know new life
So this wellspring of carnal knowledge may be imbibed 
For unsentimental education is the most important thing
Not false prophets or paltry illusions we give these bedroom pedestrians.

The cock is a symbol of liberating iconography
It is the flag which I will wave proudly
With framed posters hanging from my bedroom walls.

The cock touches my tainted soul
It transcends simple sins
Lingering like the fondest of mischievous memories.

The cock is a wonder 
Full of suck ever-extending bliss
Something truly glorious to behold.

Our bodies will be a battlefield
The only death being La Petit mort.