Photo: Pamela Raith Photography
What a Rock ‘n’ Rollin’ week it’s been so far – firstly I made Nanny Sardines’ Mother’s Day by taking her to see the 60th anniversary show celebrating Buddy Holly and The Crickets’ 1958 UK tour on Sunday (Richmond Theatre)... then, last night SW19 was truly swept away in Elvis fever as Bill Kenwright’s brand-new touring production, This is Elvis, comes to New Wimbledon Theatre.
Put together to mark the 50th anniversary of Elvis’ ’68 Comeback Special – and his return to live performing – the show features a drama-heavy first act centred on and just after the televised special which ended a decade away from the stage for the icon. While ‘The King’ was in the army, getting married and making movies, the music scene has moved on. And with Presley’s mother now passed away and the singer surrounding himself with a constant group of hangers-on – we see the extent of his nervous approach to getting back onstage as well as the power and influence of his manager, Colonel Parker (featured at the end of a phone).
After the TV special a re-energised Elvis has dreams of going ‘back to his roots’ and touring small venues with a three-piece band in a station-wagon again... that is until The Colonel’s insatiable quest for money sees him instead secure Elvis a season at the lavish International Hotel in Las Vegas – earning $500k for a month’s work; an awful lot of money in 1969. Of course history tells us how the Vegas years would see Elvis more and more reliant on drugs to combat the side-effects of his ridiculous level of success. He would eat poorly, put on weight and eventually suffer a fatal heart attack in August, 1977. While we see the beginning of this tragedy start to rear its head, act two of This is Elvis sees the spectacular opening at the very start of his Vegas years.
Playing Elvis – in what would perhaps seem an impossible task – is the astounding Steve Michaels. In an electrifying performance, Michaels is the spitting image of Presley... from looks and stature right down to his iconic moves and, most importantly, that voice. He is so authentic that I’m sure the ecstatic auditorium – which included a generous helping of celebrity guests last night – actually believes after a while that they are in fact watching the real Elvis Presley. Screaming, hysterics... he even approaches a front-row (female) fan to drape his red scarf around her neck.
With the second act becoming a 1969 Vegas performance, the first act goes as far as it can to recreate as much of Presley’s early years which, ultimately, represents a completely different era to the late-60s/early-70s. But for fans of The King’s later music, this show is a glorious recreation of an extraordinary period of music history. Blue Suade Shoes, In the Ghetto, Are You Lonesome Tonight?, Burning Love, Always on My Mind, if I Can Dream, Suspicious Minds, An American Trilogy, Jailhouse Rock, That’s Alright Mama – the list goes on and on. It’s Elvis heaven!
The actor-musician show genre is expected and rightly designed so. Under Kenwright’s own direction the spectacle is incredibly authentic – let’s just hope that Mr Michaels doesn’t get a cold. There’s no chance of an understudy going on for The King in this show!
This is Elvis plays at New Wimbledon Theatre until Saturday, 17th before continuing on its UK tour.
Elvis has left the building!
Photo: Pamela Raith Photography