The sleeper musical success Let It Be finishes its initial West End run on January 19 at the Prince of Wales Theatre before resuming performances on February 1 across town at the Savoy, with acclaimed star Reuven Gershon remaining on board as John Lennon. (The production alternates actors in its principal roles.) Broadway.com recently caught up with the affable Birmingham-born performer to discuss the art of impersonation and the importance of having the Lennon look.
You’ve made quite a splash as John Lennon. Has he always been a favorite of yours?
I’ve been impersonating Lennon since I was a child—well, about 10—and it was the Beatles that first got me into singing and learning to play the guitar. I used to sing along to John’s harmony as you do when you’re a kid and you impersonate your favorite rock star. I’ve been in a couple of Beatles bands, of which there are quite a few; they cross-pollinate as well. There’s a real Beatles community, you could say, in this country.
So, is Lennon your life?
I wouldn’t say he’s my life! I do have other interests apart from John Lennon, but he’s just one those charismatic figures. For as long as I can remember, I used to pore over photographs and love to read about him.
Given your background, joining this show must have been a no-brainer.
Well, my friends thought it was a no-brainer and kept saying to me, “Of course, you’ve got the job.” It’s funny: The glasses and the hair and things like that all play a part, but the most important thing, of course, is the music. Can you sing the songs well and play them well? What I’ve found is that my voice naturally lends itself to his style, and even when I’m not trying to sing like him, people think I do!
It’s interesting that you’ve also played Buddy Holly on stage, so you’ve gone from one icon to another.
Even when I was playing Buddy Holly, people would say, “You sound like John Lennon” or “You look like John Lennon”! And, you know, the Beatles loved Buddy Holly and John used to wear Buddy Holly-style specs, so it does seem a natural progression. Maybe my next job will be as David Bowie. Who knows? [Laughs.]
Do you think you look like John Lennon?
I think there is a natural resemblance, which obviously I use to maximum effect. If there was going to be any pop star that I could recreate as the live physical embodiment of, then John Lennon is going to be the one, and it helps that he’s my favorite, as well.
People obviously love these types of shows: Let It Be follows on the heels of the West End play-with-music Backbeat, in which Andrew Knott played Lennon.
And that was an excellent show, by the way; I thoroughly enjoyed it. But Backbeat was more of a dramatic piece than a musical piece—it was all about the story, so if I were to meet Andrew Knott, I might say, “What do you do to prepare to be Lennon?” And he’d say, “I prepare for the character.” He might look at me and say, “He’s just an impersonator,” whereas if I spoke to him, I would be talking to an actor playing this person called John Lennon.
That’s a good way of describing the difference between the two shows. Do you get upset when people fault Let It Be for not having much of a story?
My answer to that is pretty simple: With a show like Backbeat, you’re dealing with a very short time in the Beatles’ career before they were famous, and a story has been made of that. But if you’re telling the story of the Beatles in one show, you’re talking about four of the most iconic people in all of culture, and the story is huge. As a result, the music itself has to be what the piece becomes about. Where are you supposed to put the story in that? The Beatles wrote more than 300 songs, of which we’re singing 30—about 10 percent—and that’s what we’re there to do.
And it’s not as if their story hasn’t been extensively told.
That’s the thing: There are thousands of books and documentaries and films and excellent anthologies about the Beatles, and if you don’t know something about their story, you must have been living in a cave. I mean, just recently there was Nowhere Boy, a two-hour film based on John’s life before the period that is picked up in Backbeat.
You’re in your 30s, so you weren’t alive during actual Beatlemania. Do you ever feel as if you were born into the wrong era?
I think all of us in this show feel that to some degree, and I’ve often been told that; I would love to have been around to experience all of that stuff firsthand. But it’s a testament to the quality of the music that it has translated from generation to generation. One thing I’ve always noticed when playing in Beatles bands or shows is that the age range is all-encompassing: The music is timeless.
Do you come from a musical background?
Not really. I think of this as something I just discovered on my own. My parents weren’t musicians, and they didn’t listen to that kind of music, so they probably thought of it as a bit silly. My dad is a photographer and my mum was interested in theater and used to take me along to see musicals and things and encouraged me to get involved in acting. When I was a kid, they wanted me to learn the violin; I think they would have been happy if I’d been a violinist in a classical orchestra, another Yehudi Menuhin. What a combination with John Lennon! [Laughs.]
Where do you go from here?
I’m always open to exploring other avenues. I trained to be able to multitask as an actor, so if I were to get anything at the Royal Shakespeare Company, for instance, I would be absolutely over the moon. I’d like to feel as if this isn’t the end destination—though, having said that, it’s not a bad place to end.