Written by Danielle Boise; Photo Courtesy of Paul Coltas
Over 2-million people have seen the critically acclaimed Let it Be stage show. The show is in the midst of a North American tour and Atlanta is the second to last stop on this special tour when it arrives at The Fox Theatre on April 22.
What makes Let It Be an unique experience is that it brings two distinctive pieces together. The first half remains true to the original taking the audience along The Beatles ride from their humble beginnings in Liverpool to full blown Beatlemania.
The second half is pure imagination of “what if?” What if John hadn’t died and the band reunited for one incredible night, yet allowed each member to shine in their own right? It delves into the wonderment of The Beatles, not only as a group, but as individual artists. With a huge anthology to choose from, this is a show that true Beatles fans will want to experience.
I had the pleasure to speak with Michael Gagliano, the man who plays John Lennon, to discuss what it takes to bring this larger-than-life persona to life.
Who was the first person to introduce you to the world of The Beatles? Did you realize then how much of an impact The Beatles would have on your life?
No, not at all. The first person to introduce me to The Beatles was my mum. She had some Beatles singles stuffed into a toaster, like a metal rack. We call them toaster racks in England, it’s the sort of thing you put toast in, but this had 45 singles in it. She gave it to me with Dansette record player, it was like a toy to play with. And I just played with them.
When I was little, I always used to put these little black round disc things in this record player and I used to absolutely love it! And the sound that used to come of it, just blew me away. I just used to love listening to these weird little things.
As I grew up I realized that I could learn to read, I could listen The Beatles on it. That was my first experience with The Beatles was just listening to my mum’s old records. I knew they were from another planet really compared to everything else on these little black pieces of plastic that didn’t sound quite as good as The Beatles.
Being such a huge fan of The Beatles, how does it feel to take on the role of John, and how do you make it your own?
I played Lennon for four years in the West End, and it is a massive privilege to be able to play that guy because everyone loves John. He was so human, just so warm and so real. Even though he was a multi-millionaire and everything in the end, he still had the power to be like an everyman to the universe really – the guy had that ability. Everyone loves John because he’s just so warm and real with his messages, and so honest, so painfully honest sometimes. He’s the man.
For me he’s the soul of The Beatles. They all individually do it. I don’t know why, I guess it’s because it was John’s band, John’s style with Paul. So it’s a massive privilege, obviously that comes with a great weight of responsibility. You are playing someone who means so much to so many people.
I try, hopefully, when people come to see us they think that this guy is great, he loves The Beatles, and because I love The Beatles so much it should it travel through and hope people can get that when I am playing John. Although, I don’t feel like I’m playing John, sometimes I feel like he’s playing me.
John was such a pivotal and integral part of The Beatles, how do you honor this connection to both John as an individual and to The Beatles as a group?
It can never just be a John because the other three are involved. That’s the beauty of The Beatles, that when The Beatles broke up that they were still so good, that they had so many hits. They are individually all represented in the show, but The Beatles together were something else. They were so amazing, that even apart they could all individually still all shine on their own. But obviously coming together, I hope you’ll excuse the pun, them coming together they made some incredible music, but they made that music together, whether it was a John, Paul or a George song they each came together to make that music together.
They were pretty special, but individually they also had some amazing songs and those songs are represented in the show too. Which is something new for audiences because for many years many Beatle bands have been putting that show together where they tell The Beatles story through the music, this is sort of something a little bit different. Where for the first time where we are incorporating like a dream sequence, if you will, where imagine where they reunite and they get back together – they would play some Beatle songs and they would also play their solo stuff and that’s what you get to see.
It’s like The Beatles 21st Century, a new way, a new take on The Beatles. I think audiences demand that, they expect more and we are going to give it to them. Let it Be has always been a cutting edge show, and it will continue to be so with this new concept. I hope audiences are, well they are already loving it. Turning up in droves and screaming the night out. So hopefully that will continue to happen for the rest of the tour.
How is it playing such a multi-faceted person, who was an inspiration for a generation, yet truly a complicated man?
Yeah, he was a complicated man, and because I love him so much because I’ve been him, he’s my idol hopefully I will have absorbed some of all that. What it takes to make that count to the way he was. John has literally the idiosyncrasies, the unique differences that I’ve picked up on and hopefully you’ll see that in the show. I breathe him. I try to because I love and understand the man so much. Hopefully I put that across, as do the others with their characters. That we all love The Beatles so much in this band that hopefully you see it in the show. And make it be like it’s seeing The Beatles. Obviously, we have done a good enough job that the show has been this successful. Hopefully, we’ve done something right, because people love it and hopefully more and more people will love this new concept of the show.
After spending the last 15 years immersed in the world of The Beatles, where do you find the spark to keep it fresh and new for both you and the audience?
The Beatles are eternally fresh, that’s the beautiful thing about them. There music was so good, so powerful that you don’t need to rewrite or revamp, their music is good anyways. It will do that job on its own. What we are trying to do with this show is to try expand what happened to them after. The whole world would love The Beatles to get back together, and that’s no longer possible, but it kind of is in this world by the way we’ve done it.
We all love The Beatles so much. I don’t just mean the people in the show, I mean people around the world. And I think they are looking for a new take, just a fresher version of Let it Be and that’s what we are doing now and it feels it for me as a performer. Having been in the West End for four years and all around Europe and all the rest of it. To play that show is a massive privilege, an honor. Their songs are great and people love them, but hopefully this new version will keep us fresh and going for a long while. It’s mind blowing to get to see Lennon, Harrison, McCartney doing their solo stuff, as well as The Beatles it’s absolutely mind blowing.
Seeing those individual characters, after The Beatles, those individual characters come to life. Imagine that. If you love The Beatles, and you love their solo stuff – well who didn’t’? If you think about the amount of records that they sold after they broke up. Imagine all those hits coming to life – you get to see Live and Let Die, Band on the Run, Imagine. I really shouldn’t be telling you the all this (laughing).
If John were still alive, what do you think he would think of your performance in the show?
First of all John is still alive, that’s the mad thing. John’s still alive. John’s music, the essences of who he is, his theology – John’s still alive. John’s still with us with Beatle fans, with people who love good music. John’s alive every day. I really, honestly believe that. I never got to meet him or ever see him. To me and billions of other people he’s definitely still alive. If he actually was alive and walked around the corner and saw our performance, I think he’d love it because he could see that there is [sic] heart, care, soul and passion that he had – he’s still alive. That he’s represented by us every day.
It’s an ongoing thing keeping that music alive. Millions of disc jockeys do it every day by playing their music. Millions of Beatle bands all over the world keep their music alive. But, top amazing musicals, like Let it Be, strengthen the masses to keep that music alive every day. I genuinely still believe that man is still alive – the music is, definitely. It cannot be, it’s what it means to be a human, it’s the soundtrack to our lives. So buy your tickets and come and see us. You’ll love it.
What’s your favorite moment in the show?
It always used to be Strawberry Fields or All You Need Is Love, because I just get to be John Lennon in those amazing moments – imagine being on the world transmission TV thing, the first world satellite hookup ever and getting to play John Lennon – getting to play Strawberry Fields. Not even John Lennon sang Strawberry Fields live and you get to be him in the 21st century playing… it’s just mind blowing. Imagine now, in the reunion concert I get to play a mid-’70s John Lennon playing Watching The Wheels Go Round. Imagine how that feels.
That’s the most exciting moment for me now if I’m being completely honest, singing Imagine or singing Watching the Wheels or singing his solo hits because I get to extend that amazing character. I get to do songs, not as a Beatle, but in a Beatle setting so that’s really interesting. And to be John Lennon in 1980, after being a ’60s Beatle for so long. Now I get to play him as an adult, a grownup – somebody with children. It’s mind blowing really.
What do you want fans to take away from spending an evening with Let It Be?
What they’ve always taken away up to this point is, they’ve gone home feeling “I went into a building and I got to see The Beatles. I was touched by The Beatles, I had a Beatles experience.” That’s why it’s been such a massive hit because of that brilliant music. I want the audience to feel like The Beatles never ever ended. And The Beatles never ended. The Beatles may have split up in 1970, but they haven’t really. Not in the eyes of the world, cause we didn’t let them. The world never let The Beatles split up, and it will never let The Beatles split up…that’s what I want the audience to take away.
The Let it Be show will be in Atlanta on April 22 at The Fox Theatre.