West End show Let It Be brings Beatles back to Sunderland Empire

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A musical homage to the Fab Four is heading to Sunderland. Katy Wheeler went along to the show’s West End home to find out more

Following in the footsteps of their heroes, the stars of West End musical Let it Be are hitting the road to tour the length and breadth of Britain.

This will be the first UK tour for the show which provides theatre-goers with a faithful recreation of the biggest, and arguably the best, band in the world.

Playing provincial theatres is how the original Beatles earned their stripes and it’s fitting, therefore, that Let it Be should come to the Sunderland Empire – which The Beatles first played back in 1963.

I went along to the show’s base in the West End, The Savoy Theatre, where it will run until next month.

A rotating cast take it in turns to step into The Beatles’ winklepickers and many of them will be playing the roles on the tour.

As musicians, they say it’s a dream come true to pay homage to their idols for a living.

Stephen Hill, who plays George Harrison, said: “We all grew up with the records, anyone learning to play guitar or drums learns to play Beatles songs.

“When you’re playing The Beatles on stage you can’t fool around with the music, it’s got to be spot on.

“We’ve all been performing The Beatles music for 10 years plus and it doesn’t matter whether you’re performing in a pub or on the West End stage, if you’re doing The Beatles you’ve got to be as close to the original as you can.

“If I was in the audience I’d be listening to every lick and bass line.”

The show features 44 of The Beatles’ biggest songs from the early days of Can’t Buy Me Love and I Want to Hold Your Hand, through to the psychedelia of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, to the anthemic Hey Jude and achingly beautiful Yesterday.

Michael Gagliano, who plays John Lennon, says, like the rest of the cast, he grew up with The Beatles. “Mum had a toaster-rack full of The Beatles singles when I was growing up, they were my toys,” he explained.

“I think The Beatles are so popular because they were the first of everything.

“You can’t get bored of their music. It’s like classical pop music – they are our Beethoven. In millions of years we will still look back to their music.

“If a band today had released just one of their singles, they could make it last forever.”

After releasing their first single, Love Me Do, on October 5, 1962, The Beatles went on to become the best-selling band in history, with estimated sales of over one billion units.

The group received seven Grammy awards, 15 Ivor Novello Awards and an Oscar.

They have more multi-platinum albums, more number one singles and more number one albums than any other group, and they are the only act to have simultaneously held the top five positions on the US Billboard chart.

Emmanuele Angeletti, who plays Paul McCartney, says recreating The Beatles magic is a constant learning curve.

“We look to get as close as we can to the original. It’s different to other shows where once you’ve learned the script, you’re done.

“It’s an on-going process for us,” he explained.

The actors live together in a bid to form a close bond which will translate on stage and they often sit and watch old footage of the original band.

But Luke Roberts, who plays Ringo Starr, says, despite being constantly surrounded by the music, he never tires of The Beatles.

“When you’re on stage you’ve got to imagine that your character is in the audience and that you’re performing to them,” he said.

“Certain friends and family have come along and said they don’t really like The Beatles, but they leave saying they love The Beatles.

“It opens their eyes to the whole history of The Beatles, it’s not just the mop tops in suits element.

“After 600 shows, I still sit there thinking ‘this is great’.

“You get people of all ages coming along. A week ago we had a thousand cheerleaders from America in and it was like being in the real Beatles.”

•Let It Be is at Sunderland Empire from March 24-29. Tickets are available from Tel. 0844 871 3022.

The Beatles in Sunderland

The Beatles were a relatively-unknown act when they made their Wearside debut at Sunderland Empire on February 9, 1963, supporting Helen Shapiro.

It was two days before they started recording the bulk of their debut album Please Please Me – and they had only released two singles.

By the end of that year they had three number one singles and were on their way to being the biggest band in history.

Former Sunderland Echo journalist Carol Roberton was at the city’s landmark concert and wrote a review for the paper.

She said: “I was a jazz fan at the time so I hadn’t really heard of The Beatles, who hadn’t been heard of then, really.

“It’s difficult to remember The Beatles properly. They were gyrating around on the stage and I got a fit of giggles.”

The Beatles were bottom of the bill that night under well-known names Danny Williams (Moon River) and Kenny Lynch (Up on the Roof).

At the time, Carol wrote that their performances were “a relief from the noisier efforts of most of the rest of the supporting programme”.

The Beatles went on to play the city’s Rink Ballroom on May 14 that year and were back at the Empire on November 30.