The Ogunquit Playhouse opened its 84th season Friday night with “Let It Be – A Celebration of the Music of The Beatles,” paying tribute to a band that’s music has been adored by generations around the world for over a half a century. A massive Union Jack flag faded to sheer black, revealing the silhouetted Fab Four performing “I Saw Her Standing There” in Liverpool’s iconic Cavern Club in 1960. And, in legendary fashion, the look-alike Beatles soon had patrons dancing in the aisles, under the spell of Beatlemania.

The Ogunquit Playhouse has assembled a star-studded cast of musicians that includes two members of the original Broadway cast – JT Curtis as George Harrison and Chris McBurney as Ringo Starr – and London-based original West End cast member Michael Gagliano as John Lennon. Chicago-based musician Neil Candelora steps into the shoes of Paul McCartney, and the production’s New York-based music supervisor, Daniel A. Weiss, lends his talents on keyboard, providing tasty solos and enhancing horn section effects.

Like Ogunquit’s previous productions of “Buddy” and “The Million Dollar Quartet,” the musicians in “Let It Be” are performing live, singing and playing all the instruments heard on stage. But, “Let It Be” offers audiences a unique experience that’s strikingly different from the prior tribute productions. There is no storyline, opting instead to offer audiences a two-hour concert, featuring over 40 hits, including “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” Yesterday,” “When I’m Sixty-Four,” “Come Together” and “Imagine.”

The two-act set list follows The Beatle’s historic rise from Liverpool-based musicians to international superstars, highlighting such important events as the Ed Sullivan Show, Shea Stadium, the band’s foray into film, the death of manager Brian Epstein and the band’s final public performance on Jan. 30, 1969.

Two large vintage television-like screens enhance the visual experience, showing news clips from the ’60s and ’70s, and sound bites taken from interviews with the real-life Fab Four provide insight into their lives and careers.

Watching Candelora, Curtis, Gagliano and McBurney perform, it’s easy to forget that they aren’t The Beatles. They look and sound like the real deal, mastering their sound, mannerisms and distinct British accents. Stunning costumes aid the four in their transformation from mop tops to hippies, with their brightly colored satin “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band” uniforms deserving special note.

Like their real-life counterparts, Ogunquit’s Fab Four knows how to put on a concert that engages the audience. Gagliano was a live wire Friday, using enthusiasm and a thick British accent to incite the crowd to get up and dance.

A large part of the second set is dedicated to “what if,” encouraging the audience to imagine that The Beatles united for a reunion performance on Lennon’s 40th birthday, Oct. 9, 1980. The imaginary set highlights the individual talents of each performer, vocally and instrumentally.

Curtis delivered a standout performance Friday on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” which features a solo originally recorded by Eric Clapton. It was both gorgeous and a true testament of his musicianship. When he broke a string on the solo, he swapped out for a new guitar mid-performance, garnering a standing ovation from the audience at the song’s close.

In keeping with the concert theme, the evening ended with a three-song encore of “Back In the USSR,” “Let It Be,” and a rousing rendition of “Hey Jude.”

For those who missed out on seeing The Beatles perform live, or wished they had the opportunity to see them again, Ogunquit Playhouse’s “Let It Be” is well worth checking out. It is an audio-visual feast for music lovers, beautifully executed by the five-member cast and an impressive behind-the-scenes staff that includes members from the touring production team, the Annerin Production team and the original U.K. creative team.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at: [email protected]

Twitter: @ahboyle

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