This is Elvis A New Musical is at The Playhouse Edinburgh this week (Mon 12 to Sat 17 Feb) bringing the illusion (as we all know this is not Elvis – well, I hope we all know) of Elvis Presley on stage live via the impressive talents of Steve Michaels. For most people who will go to see this show (including me), the opportunity to see the original and only Elvis Presley live on stage was just not a possibility, but this show gives, at least to me, a little taste of what that might have been like.
Steve Michaels is a gifted performer who is playing Elvis on stage with the respect that only really comes from someone who has a deep love for the man and his music, and the pleasure that Steve is getting himself from performing these songs live to an audience is visible throughout the whole show. Image and vocal wise, Steve has pretty much what an audience would expect to be “Elvis” on stage here, but like all the best tribute act performers, Steve is leaving a little room in his portrayal of Elvis to still be himself on stage, and that is how I like these types of shows to be. Yes, I want the music to be performed well and the original performer treated with respect, but I don’t want to go and see a karaoke show with a clone on stage. There was, and only ever will be, one Elvis Presley, we all know that, and I was not looking for another one on stage tonight. I knew from checking out some clips online before this show that Steve Michaels would be doing a great job on the Elvis image and vocals, but this is not a tribute show, it is a musical, and Steve Michaels is a skilled enough actor to also do the non singing parts well. At times though, I suspect a little tongue in cheek tribute to the Elvis in the movies here.
This production celebrates 50 years since the 1968 television special starring Elvis, and his return to live performances – in Las Vegas of all places where Elvis had performed to a less than enthusiastic audience in the early years of his career. If you are expecting the full set list from the “68 special” you might be a little disappointed here as the required time needed to open this musical to narrative obviously means that something has to go, and our television special concentrates on the “Elvis in black leather” segment of the show; Steve of course gets this as it should be.
The second half of the show is the Las Vegas performance and without giving too many of the songs away, this is where many Elvis fans in the audience will probably have at least one of their favourite Elvis songs performed. For me, it was great performances from Steve of “In The Ghetto” and “If I can Dream”. I would have, if I am honest though, have preferred “If I can Dream” as performed in that iconic white suit in the “68 television special”. Still for me, the performance of this classic written by Walter Earl Brown with its quotes from Martin Luther King Jnr in the lyrics was worth coming to see the show for alone.
This show may be billed as a “musical”, but it is a thinly veiled wrap around a “tribute show” no matter what anyone has to say, although the careful use of script and dialogue is enough to give insights into the off stage persona that was Elvis the man. In these scenes we catch glimpses of some of the demons that both drove and eroded Elvis in equal measures - huge feelings of personal insecurity, never coming to terms with his mother’s death, guilt over being the surviving twin, and a growing need for pills to help him sleep or to keep him awake.
There was only ever one Elvis Presley, but Steve Michaels is a gifted performer in his own right and that personal charisma on stage and ease with a live audience was evident all evening. Steve more than once deviated from the official script to respond to his audience tonight and returned to “the show” with effortless ease, and that is a skill in itself. The audience here took Steve Michaels to their hearts.
Musically there were some good and solid performances from everyone on stage in the live band, and the recreation of one of my favourite groups of all time, “The Sweet Inspirations”, was very well done. Perhaps someone can find a way of getting Steve/Elvis and "The Sweet Inspirations" to perform “Let It be Me” in this show - big hint there folks.
Despite the minimal stage set, and limited time available to cover the “68 television special”, I liked this show a lot, and it connected with the audience (who were at times a little subdued, but it was a cold Edinburgh Monday night after all) to all the big song performances. A respectful tribute to one of the great performers of the 20th century, Elvis Aaron Presley.
Born: 8 January 1935, Tupelo, Mississippi, United States
Died: 16 August 1977, Memphis, Tennessee, United States
A little touch of sadness too in watching this show and realising that in less that 10 years Elvis would be dead. The memory of Elvis, and the music that he left behind though obviously still live on for so many people.
Elvis Presley - Steve Michaels
Charlie Hodge - Mark Pearce
Joe Esposito - Reuven Gershon
Steve Binder - Benjamin Stratton
Sweet Inspiration (Estelle) - Chevone Stewart
Review by Tom King