In the beginning, there was "Beatlemania," a clone-culture artifact that dressed up four Beatle imitators, ran for 18 months on Broadway in the late '70s and, for all we know, may still be on tour somewhere out in the cosmos as we speak. In 2010 came "Rain," another paint-by-numbers faux-Beatles simulation that ran nine months under the guise of a new musical.
Now we have "Let It Be," which -- I lose track -- is a rip-off of an imitation of a cover band of a sound-alike replica for people who may also take comfort in beloved dead animals stuffed by taxidermists. In fact, the producers of the multimedia "Rain" believe this one to be so similar to their copy that, last month, they filed a suit against the "Let It Be" producers for, no kidding, copyright infringement.
Asked about the status of the lawsuit, a spokesman for the new show told me, "No comment."
Indeed, no comment feels like useful commentary about the zombie-karaoke culture that lurks just a pulse away from that big old animatronic Abe Lincoln at Disneyland.
But "Let It Be," still running in London, strikes me as the cheesiest yet of the Beatles so-called celebrations, intended for audiences who prefer live fakes to experiencing the real thing on great documentaries and albums.
The printed program lists 10 (rotating) musicians, but does not indicate which four will wear the mop-top wigs and paste on the facial hair at which performance. At Monday's preview, according to the show's press agent, James Fox was imitating Paul, Reuven Gershon was in the John spot, with John Brosnan as George and Luke Roberts up there with Ringo's drums.
This omission says a lot about the generic ambitions of the slide-and-light show, which runs almost two and a half long hours and runs through about 40 wondrous Beatle songs. Old-timey TV screens show the same old documentary footage of the moon walk, hula hoops and screaming girls at Shea Stadium. Videos of the singing lads are not in lip-synch with the ones onstage and the man who does the Ed Sullivan voice-over sounds instead like Richard Nixon.
I hasten to report that many in the audience happily rose from their seats, clapped and danced when encouraged to do so. But when projections of strawberries streamed across the proscenium during "Strawberry Fields Forever," the lyric "nothing is real" felt really sad.
WHAT "Let It Be"
WHERE St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.
INFO $79-$135; 212-239-6200; letitbebroadway.com