Review by Ernie Sutton
PRINCE OF WALES THEATRE - LONDON
As I took my seat in the very same theatre The Beatles played their only Royal Variety Show on November 4th 1963, it was hard to believe they played in such a small venue at that time and how fans didn’t surge the stage with the Beatlemania that had gripped Britain that year.
Before the show I watched as 2 giant TV screens on each side of the stage showed questions about The Fab Four, with multiple choice answers. The know it all fan would know them all, but for a member of the public not familiar with the story, there were some easy ones and some difficult ones. The frame of the TVs replicated a 1960s style TV, and would relay the images from the forthcoming show as well as some cartoons and provide entertainment with 1960s TV ads during costume changes, including a fish fingers ad featuring Alf Garnet (alias Warren Mitchell) and daughter Rita (alias Una Stubbs). Warren, of course, was in the film “Help!”
As the curtains opened, there stood Michael Gagliano (John), Emanuele Angeletti (Paul), John Brosnan (George) and Gordon Elsmore (Ringo). Dressed in 1963 suits John introduced the show saying it was great to be back at the Prince of Wales Theatre, and proceeded to ask the people in the cheaper seats to clap their hands- and the rest to rattle their jewellery. “She Loves You” kicked off the evening, followed by a medley of the hits from 1963. It was as if I had been transported back in time to that Royal Variety Show all those years before.
This was purely a concert on stage, with The Beatles story being told by what they did best- making music. The 1964 period features songs from “A Hard Day’s Night”, with George singing “I’m Happy Just to Dance with you”. Indeed George’s song writing appeared to be overlooked in the first half of the show, with this song his only contribution on vocals to this section- and this was a Lennon/McCartney composition.
1965 featured a change of costume and scenery as we were all but put into Shea Stadium- images of screaming fans adorned the TV screens at the side as the boys played a number of songs including “Day Tripper” which wasn’t released at the time of the original concert. However, such a great song would not really have fitted elsewhere in the show. A number of the songs were shortened. Just as you were about to join in and sing the last verse, the song would end. The logic in this though is that more Beatle classics could be played. Paul also did a solo of “Yesterday” being introduced by the other Beatles in a similar way to that “Big Night Out” performance in the 60s.
1966 was virtually ignored, including most of the “Revolver” album, which in some polls in the number one Beatles album. Indeed only “Eleanor Rigby” made it into the show. Again all of George’s material was not included. This was a pity as George was by now developing into a great writer, but George would have his moment later in the show.
As 1966 concluded, the curtains came down and we entered a 20 minute break.
Part two started in 1967 with the band in Sgt Pepper outfits. Songs from this album would dominate the start of this section, with Ringo getting his one and only singing part with “With a Little Help from My Friends”. “Sgt Pepper”, Lucy in the Sky”, “When I’m 64”, A Day in the Life”, “Sgt Pepper-reprise” all featured. John then took to the piano for “All You Need is Love”. By now a 5th member Ryan Alex Farmery is on stage to play the additional instruments needed with the band for these more complex songs.
The band were clearly enjoying themselves and after a few more songs including “Strawberry Fields” and “Magical Mystery Tour”, the band entered a final costume change and emerged with John, Paul and George sat on chairs with acoustic guitars and Ringo at the back on drums.
A wonderful rendition of “Blackbird” and an all in all great acoustic section ended with “Here Comes the Sun” and the acoustic version of “While my Guitar Gently Weeps”, which then transformed half way through to the electric version we more commonly know. If anything the cheers at the end of this song were the biggest of the night.
As we entered the final part songs from “Abbey Road”, including the medley and “Come Together”, as well as “Get Back” which really got the place rocking . The climax was a rendition of “Give Peace a Chance”, the only solo recording in the show. Before I knew it 2 and a half hours had passed and the show was over- or was it?
There was an encore of “Let it be”, of course. But after taking a standing ovation we were treated to “Hey Jude” as well, with Paul and the band performing as if it was the Paul of today, asking the girls to join in then the boys and even John then saying “now the Under 9’s” for the na na na bit.
I have to say the musicianship was great and we were allowed to get up and dance part way through which added to the enjoyment. I do have to say though of all the great musicianship though the drumming was quite brilliant throughout. There were a few minor hiccups, but these were dismissed in John’s humorous way.
The backdrops too were well put together, including some “Yellow Submarine” type imagery, to bring a Beatle concert to London, covering their entire 7 recording years. (Yes that’s all it was). As lookalikes, yes they would pass the audition too.
A downside to the show? Well it’s the songs that were left out. (e.g. No “Penny Lane”, no “Something”, virtually nothing from “Revolver”, no “Back in the USSR”). Having said that, I think all Beatles fans have had that feeling when they have seen Paul, and I too when I’ve seen Ringo- (will he play Octopus’s Garden sometime?). With so much great material some people’s favourites will not be here. But the music that is there far outweighs the ones that aren’t. Indeed we are treated to some tracks seldom played by tribute bands such as “Revolution” and “Two of us”.
I thoroughly enjoyed the show and would recommend this to anyone who enjoys the music of The Beatles, or who just wants to experience a concert/show with some of the finest music produced in the 1960s.
For more information, and to book tickets, visit the official website for
Let It Be: