By Jill Serjeant
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The Beatles - that is, a version of the Liverpool band that broke up more than 40 years ago - are back on Broadway, sending theater audiences dancing into the aisles and proving it's not just Paul McCartney who still believes in "Yesterday."
"Let it Be," a concert-style celebration of the music of the Fab Four that opened in New York this week, is the latest stage show to take fans old and new back to the Beatlemania of the 1960s even as surviving members McCartney and drummer Ringo Starr perform and tour the world in their own right.
Unlike the Abba stage show "Mamma Mia!" or Green Day's "American Idiot" that string a plot around well-known hits, "Let It Be" simply features young look-alikes for McCartney, Starr and the late John Lennon and George Harrison who play and sing Beatles songs live as if the audience were attending a 1960s era concert.
"It's not a musical and it's not just a concert. It's somewhere between those things," director and musical supervisor John Maher told Reuters.
The band performs some 40 hits each night in roughly chronological order from The Beatles' last show at Liverpool's Cavern Club to their final live concert on a London rooftop in January 1969.
Attention is given to detail, including how the band members stood while performing, as well as their Liverpool accents, changing looks, mannerisms and hairstyles. Screens in the theater show original newsreels and some psychedelic video projections.
"If we don't get the authenticity right, the evening doesn't succeed as a concert or a theatrical event. When people walk out, if all we have done is play the songs really well, it doesn't take people to the same place than if we make them believe, just for a second or two, that they are watching the real deal," Maher added.
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The show is not endorsed by either The Beatles or their Apple Corps Ltd company. (Copyright to most of the songs is held by Sony/ATV.) Only the Cirque du Soleil acrobatic spectacle "Love," which has been playing in Las Vegas since 2006, has that distinction.
Audiences don't seem to mind. On a recent night, baby boomers and 20-somethings alike sang along loudly, got to their feet and danced, and screamed with appreciation.
"Let It Be" arrives on Broadway after mixed reviews in London. It follows a similar tribute show, "Rain," in 2010-2011, and the 1970s Broadway show "Beatlemania," which is still touring.
Maher says the music remains so strong and well-known internationally that there is room for another production. Record label EMI estimates that The Beatles have sold more than one billion units worldwide since they formed in 1960 and disbanded in 1970.
Musician and author Jonathan Gould hasn't seen the Broadway show but said the music of the Fab Four appears to be more popular now than 20 years ago and has been embraced by new generations.
"It is like listening to Mozart or Beethoven or Louis Armstrong or Duke Ellington. All those cliches about it being somewhat timeless have some relevance now, and I think people can just give themselves over to it," said Gould, author of the 2007 book "Can't Buy Me Love" about the Beatles and their impact on pop culture.
Why not just go hear McCartney, 71, himself perform many of the old Beatles hits on his current, critically acclaimed "Out There" world tour, now wrapping up its U.S. leg? Starr, 73, is heading out to South America and Mexico on tour in October.
Gould said fans should go see McCartney, but they won't get "the incredible dimension of the four of them singing and playing together.
"When you saw The Beatles on stage, they were really performing for one another. They are looking and laughing at one another. That's a quality that I think was enormously affecting," said Gould.
Maher agrees that the Beatles together had a spark that made them more than the sum of their parts.
"There is a nostalgia element that takes many of us back to what feels like a simpler time or a happier time. But for me, it begins and ends with the music.
"The quality and scope of their songwriting is astonishing. The change in their writing from 1962 to 1966 is enormous. I can still come home from a day of 18 hours in the theater and put the Beatles on very happily and still be blown away by it."
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Prudence Crowther)