Concert review: Beatles fans relive the magic of the Fab Four at Ruth Eckerd Hall during Let It Be

The touring tribute won over a roomful of Beatles fanatics in Clearwater on Saturday night.

click to enlarge Let It Be recreates the historic appearance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964 - TRACY MAY
Let It Be recreates the historic appearance of The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964

For those of us who never had the rare privilege to see The Beatles perform live, tribute shows are the closest we'll ever get to experiencing the magic the legendary Liverpool foursome created onstage. While the Fab Four only engaged in concert appearances for a short segment of their all-too-brief lifespan, their astounding catalog of recorded music far surpassed their years as a live performing unit.

But the breathtaking cast of Let It Be, an acclaimed theatrical concert show that's wowed audiences from Broadway to London's West End, ensures that everyone in their audience gets a shot at experiencing the electricity and reveling in the music journey of The Beatles. A sold out crowd of fanatics who gathered at Clearwater's Ruth Eckerd Hall on Saturday night sure got to feel it. For two hours, this magnificent production (divided into two acts) served as a delightful reminder of the majesty and the magnitude of all the great music the four lads from England created.

The slightly revamped tour version of the show that has enjoyed successful stints in both New York and London features a condensed telling of the story of the band's rise to fame in Act I. The second act is staged as a "what if" scenario, contemplating what a reunion show would look and sound like had it ever come to fruition. 

Two oversized vintage television sets positioned at either end of the stage blasted mock footage and clips of the band known as "Let It Be" (the word "Beatles" was never once uttered or displayed throughout the night) on its screens. Opening with the band's legendary and pivotal appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964, the four actors/singers/performers who look and sound a lot like the real thing were clad in matching suits and perched atop a set that uncannily replicated the show's stage.

click to enlarge Neil Candelora, JT Curtis and Michael Gagliano (l-r) portray The Beatles in the production of "Let It Be" - TRACY MAY
Neil Candelora, JT Curtis and Michael Gagliano (l-r) portray The Beatles in the production of "Let It Be"
Neil Candelora (who portrays left-handed bassist and singer Paul McCartney) has obviously poured over hours of film and studied his assigned Beatle's moves intensely. From his headbobs and toetaps to personal mannerisms, he channeled McCartney brilliantly. Whether harmonizing on early hit "She Loves You" or soaking in the solo spotlight for a stirring acoustic rendition of "Yesterday" later in the first act, Neil's take on McCartney was incredibly convincing.

Apart from the aid of a side stage keyboardist, the four stars of the show tackle all instrumental and vocal duties themselves. The quartet are obviously seasoned professionals as every guitar strum, drum fill and vocal contribution proved incredibly accurate and faithful to the originals. A nod to the band's massive 1965 performance at New York City's Shea Stadium was soaked in the ambiance and feel of a real outdoor event. 

Michael Gagliano, as John Lennon, added cheeky stage banter derived from actual Lennon quotes as he delivered a downright, spot-on interpretation of the singer-songwriter's place in the band. Moving onward to the psychedelic Sgt. Peppers phase, Gagliano shone during his piano-driven take on the classic "Strawberry Fields Forever." 

While Ringo Starr's contributions are often overlooked in the scheme of the band's achievements, Chris McBurney made sure to represent the eccentric drummer faithfully via steady beats and sporadic vocal contributions. JT Curtis, as George Harrison, whipped out stunning guitar leads all night as he mimicked George's subtle moves and stoic appearance.

Coasting through the latter periods of the Abbey Road/Let It Be LPs, the band chose exact reproductions of the threads each Beatle wore on the now iconic album cover depicting the four crossing the street. No detail was left unnoticed down to Paul being shoeless.  

A fictional take on what a reunion show fpr John Lennon's 40th birthday might have sounded like was the focus during the second act. Staging a gathering of the four band members who were each deep in the throes of individual solo careers, the premise was that John, Paul, George and Ringo had decided to give it another go on October 9, 1980. 

The imaginary set that touches on Beatle classics not played in the first act as well as selections from each artists' respective solo catalogs was as brilliantly conceived as it was executed. Imagine a concert that featured Lennon's  "Watching The Wheels," Starr's "It Don't Come Easy" and Harrison's "What Is Life" in the same set. Oh, if only. The musicians managed to pull it off and make it seem and feel perfectly natural. 

Candelora's shift from quiet introspection to fiery screams during McCartney's "Band On The Run" was astounding. As was Curtis's magnificent lead on Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and his take on the song's distinctive guitar solo (originally delivered by Eric Clapton on the recorded version) were impressive enough to warrant one of the evening's many spirited standing ovations. 

In short, this clever, well-thought out and loving homage to the band that revolutionized rock 'n roll and has retained a passionate, loving fanbase 45 years after their demise is one no true Beatles fan should miss.

The care, faithfulness and exactness with which the hardworking cast tell the awesome story of The Beatles within a two-act performance is jaw-dropping. True, many of us never got the chance to see the Fab Four perform live; however, attending a stop on the limited touring engagement of this fantastic show will bring any Beatles fan a little bit closer to feeling like they had. 

About The Authors

Gabe Echazabal

I was born on a Sunday Morning.I soon received The Gift of loving music.Through music, I Found A Reason for living.It was when I discovered rock and roll that I Was Beginning To See The Light.Because through music, I'm Set Free.It's always helped me keep my Head Held High.When I started dancing to that fine, fine...
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