THIS IS ELVIS
New Alexandra Theatre, Monday 19th March, 2018
This new musical is not the usual fare, in that we don’t get the rags-to-riches rise of the protagonist. When the show begins, Elvis Presley is already the biggest star in the world but, after a decade of making questionable movies, he’s planning a comeback concert on live television. Nerves are running high, the King’s self-esteem is at a low point and the time he is spending at work is putting a strain on his marriage to Priscilla. Around him, his entourage of ‘friends’ discuss his plans and problems, like sycophants at a royal court. Among them are Presley’s best friends, Joe Exposition (sorry, Esposito) played tonight by Ben Stratton, and Charlie Hodge (Mark Pearce). The dialogue, by Philip Norman, is clunky, heavily laden with factoids, telling us things rather than showing us; it’s a relief when these ‘dramatic’ interludes give way to the songs. We are not allowed to meet the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s manager, nor Mrs Presley herself – Both of these interesting characters are restricted to telephone calls, and we don’t even get to hear their side. The show misses out on a couple of humdinger scenes by keeping these sources of conflict off-stage.
The second half is given over to a recreation of a Las Vegas show. Seeing it in context – we’ve glimpsed the King’s drug abuse, his self-doubt, his loneliness – makes what follows all the more remarkable. As the man himself is the phenomenal Steve Michaels, who has Presley down pat: the voice, the mannerisms, the moves, in an uncanny performance that brings Elvis into the building. So many highlights, including Suspicious Minds, It’s Now or Never, Are You Lonesome Tonight?…
The entourage from the first half form the backing band, a taut combo, augmented by a trio of backing vocalists, Sweet Inspirations (Chevone Stewart, Katrina May, and Misha Malcolm). Together they are terrific, creating an authentic sound. But it is frontman Michaels who grabs us by the pelvis and, channelling the King, gets our blood pumping and our hands clapping. And so what starts out as a ropey dramatic reconstruction culminates in an hour-long tribute act that is irresistible and exhilarating. The King is not dead; he has been reincarnated.