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Thursday, 7 June, 2001, 13:33 GMT 14:33 UK
All you need are songs
All You Need Is Love
The dancers project energy and joy: but is that enough?
By BBC News Online's Alex Webb

If the heart does not leap at the thought of a Beatles musical, it is no criticism of the Fab Four themselves.

For the Beatles usually produced such definitive recordings of their own songs that cover versions are rarely satisfying.

And there is something unsettling about messing with a song catalogue widely seen as the crown jewels of pop.

But, undaunted, directors Jon Miller and Pete Brooks have put together a lively two-hour revue which whips through 50 Lennon-McCartney songs - with one eye, one imagines, on the audiences who have made Abba musical Mamma Mia! such a success.

Twelve young dancers and singers - who cannot have been born when the Beatles broke up - and a well-rehearsed live band project the songs with energy and joy.

The Beatles
Pop's crown jewels: the Beatles' songs
And, it has to be said, what songs they are.

Powerful rockers, soaring ballads, all capable of thrilling again even though they are very nearly hard-wired into the brain of everyone over their mid-30s.

Some, like Come Together and I Saw Her Standing There, are presented in their original arrangements.

Others, like She Loves You (a surprisingly successful reggae romp) and I've Just Seen A Face (doowop) are freshened up with new ones - and All My Loving is even interwoven with No Reply to create a clever counterpoint.

Why, then, is it hard to give All You Need Is Love! an unqualified thumbs-up?

The first problem is the concept. There is a nagging feeling through the first half that some sort of narrative is going to emerge, but it does not.

All You Need Is Love
Good dancing, but no narrative
The six couples who sing the songs in turn seem to be falling in love, flirting, arguing and breaking up in an apparently random sequence.

And the dancing and singing is good, but not good enough.

Most impressive is the rotund Neal Wright, who injects character and humour into his vocal spots and is in danger of stealing the show - without much opposition, it has to be said.

A few technical problems with vocal balance do not help - Back In The USSR, one of their wittiest lyrics, deserves to be clearly heard, not buried in the mix.

There is also some uncertainty about the staging, which ranges from the imaginative (A Day In The Life as an authentic nightmare) to the extremely pedestrian (Yellow Submarine presented as po-faced psychedelia, rather than as a children's song).

The show picks up towards the close which, as many a Beatles fan would have predicted, strongly echoes the end of the group's last album Abbey Road.

The show's title song All You Need Is Love finally appeared as an encore - to which most of the audience clapped and sang along happily.

And judging by audience reaction alone, the show just might be a winner - not so much with blasť Brits, but with the huge numbers of foreign tourists who want to see an undemanding and authentically British show.

But in the West End, as the show's producers know only too well, Tomorrow Never Knows.

All You Need is Love! is showing at the Queen's Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.

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