Tribute shows don’t get more robust and all-embracing than Let It Be, the audience-rousing canter through the Beatles’ catalog of hits that is newly opened at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre. Two casts share the eight-show week in order to bring the iconic musicians (and their music) to life. Just after opening night, Broadway.com spoke to Stephen Hill, whose uncanny incarnation of George Harrison has been singled out by West End reviewers.
I just came from the matinee of Let It Be. That’s quite a show you guys are putting on!
We love it. And believe me, I don’t take [this job] for granted!! All I know is how to play the guitar and sing; I can’t do anything else. I’ve never had a nine-to-five job.
I gather you have a history playing George Harrison.
I’ve loved the Beatles all my life, and I’ve been playing George for about 10 years in various Beatles bands in the U.K. One day, I saw an advert in the local paper in Wolverhampton saying “George Harrison wanted.” That’s how it began, and before you know it, you’re on the circuit; it’s crazy how things pan out.It’s such a pleasure to be part of Rain [Let It Be’s American predecessor], and now here we are on the West End, so it has got to be perfect!
Do you rotate from one Beatles-spawned entertainment to another?
It does feel that way. There must be 50-plus tribute bands out there, and most of us in Let It Be knew each other from being on the Beatles scene; Emanuele Angeletti [one of the McCartneys] was the only one I had not met before. After a while, you find you’re meeting this John and that Paul: there’s always work coming in. It’s a little family, really.
It sounds like you are committed to the Fab Four 110 percent.
No matter what becomes of my life in the end, the fact is that I have always loved the Beatles and always will. For me, it’s about studying every record, every concert. It’s years and years of study, it really is: Every note, every movement, from eyebrows to wrists to leg movements and the way you hold your mouth when you play. It is an art form.
Was it always obvious that you would be a George and not one of the others?
Well, I was a lead guitar player long before I started singing the Beatles, and George being lead guitar and also the vocal harmonies were right up my street. I could never have been a John or a decent Ringo, let alone trying to be Paul.
Do you think you look like George?
Not personally. I might be something of a “slim Jim” or have certain facial features in common. But it’s all in the presentation; that’s what it is really about.
George was always described as “the quiet one.” Is that true of you, as well?
I’m the exact opposite to that [laughs]! I love to be in the thick of it. But I think that’s all rubbish anyway. Even George wasn’t “the quiet one”; it’s just one of those things that gets written and somehow sticks.
You get a double-header in the second act, “Here Comes the Sun” followed by a rendition of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” that has been singled out in the reviews.
By the time those songs come in the second act, I’m ready for it. There’s no time to think; you just do it. It’s all about learning to move and play like Harrison: the makeup, your wigs—everything has got to be spot on, so by the time you get to the stage you should be halfway there before you even play your first note.
How many wigs do you have?
I used to use my own hair, but on the West End I’ve started using a wig. I should have four, but I got it down to two: There’s a Beatlemania wig for the first set, and then it’s split down the middle for the Sgt. Pepper sequence. We’ve also got five costume changes—Lennon has six—and we do, I think, 35 songs. There are a thousand other songs in there that we would love to do, but you can’t please everybody; we’ve only got two hours [laughs].
When did you first become aware of the Beatles?
When I was about eight. I’ve got family in Liverpool, so we’d go up to visit and I would go to the Cavern Club or the Albert Dock. I heard the music, and it started from there. It struck me like a brick, and I’ve never liked anything else.
Do you sometimes wish you were born into a different time so that you could have appreciated the group during their actual heyday?
A lot of us feel that, but if that were the case, we’d be knocking on 60 years old now, and we wouldn’t be able to do this job [laughs]. It’s a mixed blessing: We didn’t get to live through it, but I’m 30, which means I’m the right age to do the music justice physically.
I gather you’re a new father. Congratulations!
My girlfriend and I have a daughter who’s seven weeks old called Stevie, though we almost did call her Georgie, as you might have guessed [laughs]. They’re based in Walsall in the West Midlands, which means that I only get to go home once a week. Stevie was born while I was in the States, so I missed the birth and everything; I have missed out on a helluva lot to do this job.
But it sounds as if it was worth it. Are you looking around for other shows you might do while you’re on the West End?
No, everything else is not for me, and I’m not a big theatergoer anyway. I just love live music, and that’s what I do best and want to keep on doing. I’d like to do this for as long as I am physically able and sound as good. I wouldn’t want to do anything else but be a Beatle, I really wouldn’t.