Theatre Review: Elvis: A Musical Revolution

FIFTY+SA Arts Reviewer, David Jobling, shares his thoughts on the colossally entertaining, Elvis: A Musical Revolution, performing at Her Majesty's Theatre.

Elvis: A Musical Revolution kicks off with nine year-old Elvis (Nemanja Ilic) addressing a confused 33 year-old man-child Elvis (Rob Mallett) about being true to himself, then propels us on a rocking journey through the extraordinary life Elvis lived. But this theatrical conceit never really pays off dramatically, not the least because a boy, no matter how sweet or racially colour blind he is, simply doesn’t have the required gravitas to wrangle the misguided pill-addicted, workaholic star down to earth for more than a fleeting moment (even though the ‘moment’ lasts in excess of two hours).

Even before his death at 42, Mr Presley, had been done to death in a way that grossly undermined his unique talents, and created something genuinely confusing – a commodified, sexless, hunk of burning love; quite the non sequitur.

Popular culture has created an easy-to-follow myth, that Presley’s demise was all the fault of Colonel Tom Parker (Ian Stenlake) but rarely is life so simple. The writers of this version of Elvis’ life, Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti, touch on other significant elements that distracted Presley from his natural quest, though that’s not what this show is about. They even drop heavy handed facts that momentarily hang suspended, light as a feather, so bold yet so subtle, it may take a day or two for them to land as realisations in the audiences laps. Elvis: A Musical Revolution is jam packed with this kind of sleight of hand. It is a very tricky show.

Elvis: A Musical Revolution Review

Breaking it down as a work of pure theatre-art this production, presented by David Venn Enterprises, manages to visually hit a mark that is rarely achieved on stage; moments when the whole ensemble are together singing and dancing their hearts out with such energy and precision it truly is breathtaking. Accolades to Choreographer, Michael Ralph, for taking some massive risks; all which are a joy to see. Obviously a choreography that steals the show must be executed by a tremendous team of performers. The standard of the work achieved in this production is astonishing to watch, and the ensemble should know their every bruise and ache felt has brought great joy to their audience.

There are lesser moments where the characterisations and attempts at biographical drama seem overloaded and stilted, resulting in a few dreary scenes that tend to drag the momentum down. It is definitely a precarious balancing act to try and juggle an individuals’ life and career in a two act structure. When the individual is as well-known as Elvis Presley the danger of dropping the ball is increased because of his singular charm and charisma.

The boy-version of Elvis hovers above the action at times in a way that reminds us Elvis started out pretty uncomplicated and naïve but rapidly evolved into a drug addled neurotic, hedonistic narcissist. He was a product of the times at both ends of his life but the writers don’t actually give us that level of tragedy, because it’s a Juke Box Musical not an opera.

Elvis: A Musical Revolution Review

I enjoyed the music and the songs even though I didn’t like the sound mix, I thought it was over amplified which meant it lost a lot of nuance and the visceral sound didn’t evolve or progress as the music did, meaning everything got blended out to the point that it sounded like a Compact Disc was playing and the cast were miming a lot of the time, which is sad because, you know, rock and roll.

Finally, the three most significant women in (this version of) Elvis’ life, his mother Gladys Presley (Noni McCallum) treated the audience to some genuinely touching moments, his child bride Priscilla Presley (Annie Chiswell) evoked volumes of complex emotional dexterity in a lightly written role, and his mistress Ann-Margaret (Kirby Burgess), who in one show stopping number, reminded us why Elvis became a torn, ultimately broken man.

Elvis: A Musical Revolution simply put – colossally entertaining.

Image credit: Nicole Cleary & Daniel Boud


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