This is Elvis
Brighton Theatre Royal
Reviewed – 9th July 2018
“by the end of the night, most of the initially static audience is on its feet swaying and clapping along“
Over the last couple of decades, the back catalogues of much-loved bands have apparently become fair game for writers of questionable -albeit enormously successful- musicals. The likes of Mamma Mia! and We Will Rock You have taken on ABBA and Queen respectively, haunting the West End with their hackneyed plotting and airbrushed hits. This Is Elvis certainly doesn’t pass up the opportunity for a bit of one-dimensional drama, but that seems to matter very little to the audience; for them, it is clear that tonight’s show is all about the music.
Based around Elvis’ hugely successful Comeback Special of 1968 and his subsequent residency at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, we find the star at a turning point in his career, full of hope at the prospect at returning to live performance but plagued by the fear of failing to live up to his enormous reputation. In the background is the infamous Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’ authoritarian manager who, whilst never appearing on stage, appears to have the singer firmly under his thumb. The tension between King and Colonel drives the drama. One wishes to get back to the basics of good old rock’n’roll, the other is simply out to line his pockets. To be sure, the story is all just an excuse to live out the fantasy of seeing Elvis in his prime, but for such a genuinely interesting time in music history, it surprising how flat the writers manage to make it. Throughout the first act, musical numbers are interluded with saccharine episodes that seem to go nowhere, and ultimately everything set in motion in the first half is completely forgotten by the second, resolved or not; the story is simply jettisoned in favour of music after the interval.
Then again, the second act is all the better for it. Once we finally reach Las Vegas, Steve Michaels’ Elvis is free to deliver what everyone clearly came here to see. There’s no denying the power of the songs themselves, and the band is incredibly tight. Presley classics are interspersed with those of other icons of the era such as the Beatles and Simon & Garfunkel (initially mistaken by Elvis for a law firm). Michaels himself never seems to tire, tearing through hit after hit, and even finding time for banter with the audience in between numbers. Only before the final song does he admit just how out of breath he is.
Ultimately, the show is an Elvis tribute act, albeit one with a talented live band and a gleefully game front man. Perhaps if the show remained truer to this fact throughout, it would feel more rounded and we might be saved some embarrassing attempts at southern US accents. None of this seemed to matter too much to the punters however; by the end of the night, most of the initially static audience is on its feet swaying and clapping along, and it would have taken a cold, cold heart not to join in.
Reviewed by Harry True
Photography by Pamela Raith
This is Elvis
Brighton Theatre Royal until 14th July then UK tour continues