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Chris High reviews: This Is Elvis: Viva Las Vegas ' 2006

This Is Elvis: Viva Las Vegas

Simon Bowman, Andy Pelos, James Thurston, Ruth Aguilera, Tom Clare, Natasha Cox, Gary Skelton, Simone Mistry-Palmer
Director: Keith Strachan
Choreographer: Carole Todd
Book: Philip Norman
Presented by: Bill Kenwright & Laurie Mansfield
Liverpool Empire Theatre
February 20th, 2006.

This Is Elvis: Viva Las Vegas promotional image

THIS IS ELVIS
VIVA LAS VEGAS


Elvis Presley, at the height of his prowess, must have been a phenomenon the likes of which the world had never before seen. This small town Mississippian, raised on a shoe string, set the stage alight like no other performer and brought unity to a country - and a world - divided, through his music.

No small task, then, to restage one of the world's most talked about comebacks inside of two hours and still keep the atmosphere as alive today as it was thirty-eight years ago. Does This Is Elvis succeed? Oh yes, and by some distance, thanks to the performance of its star, Simon Bowman, and the troupe of performers selected to play The King's backing band.

Split into two sections, the first half recounts how Presley had become disillusioned with Hollywood and wanted to get back on the road and "back to his roots", performing across the USA.

Of course, Colonel Tom Parker knew when he had struck gold and, relinquishing his filming obligations, arranged for Elvis to play at the International Hotel Showroom in Las Vegas before a sell out audience.

Unfortunately for Presley, however, the audience was not the only sell out, as Parker got himself hamstrung with gambling debts that only continued appearances by his protégé could guarantee being paid off. Elvis never left the building, or the country, again and the pressure told on his domestic and personal lives, immeasurably.
The part of Elvis is played with such sensitivity throughout the first half and with such energy and vigour during the second, that it is quite possible to believe that one has been transported back in time. From the outset we are told we are back in 1968, at the Elvis Comeback Special, broadcast by NBC to over 40% of the viewing world. A show that was to set in motion THE return, twelve months later.

Bowman is fantastic. The longer the show progressed, the man who made his mark in Miss Saigon as the original "Chris" and then beside Martin Shaw as the young Elvis in Lonesome Tonight, had the audience eating out of his hand as though he were a real second coming. In addition, the slick guitar playing of Nick Radcliffe, laying the roles of Scotty Moore and James Burton, was truly sensational, as was the percussion, drums and brass of the band.

Furthermore, the close harmony singing and sheer power of Mistry-Palmer, Cox and Aguilera deserve special credit for being able to match Bowman for power, without ever drowning the voice of the main man out.

One or two of the dialogue lines were, it has to be said, a little hammy. Elvis reading reviews to his dead "Momma" at Graceland and the initial reference to Lisa Marie being particularly clumsy, thoughnone of this took away from the professionalism of the cast. These quibbles aside, the show sparkled from first to last like so many rhinestones caught in a laser beam of talent.

Of course, the real stars were the songs and they were all - well, nearly all - here; Guitar Man, All Shook Up, Hound Dog, That's All Right Mama, Heartbreak Hotel and One Night seared through the first half, ably accompanied by classic covers such as The Bee Gee's Words and Simon & Garfunkle's Bridge Over Troubled Water, all of which were sung during the faux-rehearsals for the main event.

And what an event!

From the opening bars of Also Sprach Zarathustra to the final strains of Jailhouse Rock, Bowman carried the spirit of a legend on his back as though it were paper. His version of Suspicious Minds rivalled that of the master, American Trilogy brought a lump to the throat - especially as it started with Elvis standing transfixed beneath a crystal spotlight giving him the candescence of a museum piece - and Big Hunk O' Love had the sell out audience on their feet and begging for more.

At last, and all too soon, the message that "Elvis has left the building" boomed from the theatre speakers and the crowd made their way home, breathless.

Elvis may well have been a phenomenon when he was alive but, now that he's gone, this show deserves to be a phenomenal success, if only as a tribute to The King's undoubted Rock 'n' Roll performing talents.
9/10


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