Tuesday, June 20, 2006

REVIEW: This is Elvis (Gaiety Theatre)

Are you fun enough to spend an evening in the company of an Elvis impersonator? Sufficiently versed in both the Elvis biography and the posthumous mythology? Susceptible to the charms of a leather jump suit, in the black or white-with-spangles version, or, preferably, both?

These are not questions that everybody can answer in the affirmative. But luckily enough for all those behind the British touring version of This is Elvis, there are at least enough people who can answer with a resounding “yes” to fill – and indeed shake, rattle and roll – the Gaiety Theatre as we are guided through a hyperreal recreation of Elvis’ 68 Comeback Special (in the first half) and his initial 1969 concert in Las Vegas (in the second).

At its best, an Elvis impersonation has a strange quality to it, somewhere between musical entertainment and a voodoo ceremony. For this show, suspension of disbelief is not quite enough: what is required is total emersion in the ritual of the undead. The recipe is so irredeemably kistch, the payoff so assured, that the artistic standard or technical qualities of the act are somewhat beside the point.

All of which leaves Simon Bowman’s Elvis easily exceeding expectations. His is a King with more than the requisite amount of fire in his belly (though perhaps, a little less belly than might be ideal) and the power of a steam whistle in his lungs, driving a voice with the gusto of a operatic tenor and a passionate, honking vibrato.

The choreography (by Carole Todd) is every bit as accomplished and indeed, it is in a dancing, thrusting, quaking and vocal-less middle section of Burning Love that the show finds its finest moment. As Bowman’s sexyily incendiary shuddering reaches a crescendo, in unison with some well-deployed strobe lighting, you would have no trouble at all in believing this was indeed, the devil’s music.


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