In August 1977, the world lost an iconic superstar. A month later, whilst Way Down was still Number One, I was born. So I’ve never shared time on this planet with Mr Elvis Presley himself, but I got the opportunity to relive his 1968 comeback show last night courtesy of This is Elvis at the New Alex Theatre. I grew up with Elvis tracks being regularly played, and Pa Lee gives a mean version of “Are You Lonesome Tonight” so it was a no-brainer who would be my partner-in-crime for tonight’s show.
Directed by theatre impresario Bill Kenwright, This Is Elvis celebrates the legend’s long-awaited 1968 comeback after years away from the stage to pursue his acting career. We are taken on a journey, from the singer’s reappearance on TV, all the way to his first live performance in seven years at the International Hotel in Las Vegas. The first half intersperses songs with the story of how this spectacular show came about, particularly the struggles of returning to a changing music world, Presley’s increasing dependence on drugs and his fraught relationships with ruthless agent Colonel Tom Parker and his wife Priscilla – both unseen on stage.
The first half of the show sets the scene, but it is definitely the post-interval performance which brings the audience to life – and to their feet. We’re treated to the show itself, a constant barrage of classic hits, from Viva Las Vegas and Blue Suede Shoes to Wonder of You and a bringing-down-the-house finale of Jailhouse Rock. My favourites, In the Ghetto and Just Can’t Help Believing make an appearance. As does Are You Lonesome Tonight, although Pa Lee still swears his version is better. The energetic versions of Burning Love and Suspicious Minds leave us exhausted – and we’re only watching.
Award-winning tribute artist Steve Michaels plays the main man in his first British tour as Elvis. He struts around the stage, winking at the audience, curling his lip and epitomising the confidence and swagger of Elvis, whilst being totally believable during the moments of vulnerability and self-doubt. Michaels’ energy is boundless, and exhausting to watch. Each song is nailed to perfection, both the uptempo tunes and the slower ones. Closing my eyes during Always on My Mind gives me goosebumps, and I’m transported back to my childhood home, listening to Elvis records on a Sunday morning.
Michaels is supported by a small but highly talented band, and the Sweet Inspirations back up the vocals perfectly. It’s a simple stage set, which allows the performers to shine without distraction, and the mood lighting matches the tempo of the numbers. The first half is more intimate – almost like Elvis is just knocking around with his mates casually – although I’m not sure Elvis ever did casual. There’s also a nod or two to the usurpers The Beatles and to Simon and Garfunkel (“sounds like a law firm”) with an amazing version of the latter’s Bridge over Troubled Waters.
This is a feelgood nostalgia-fest which shows that the Elvis legacy is as strong as ever. There are a lot of people leaving the theatre tonight with smiles on their faces and an Elvis earworm or two.
This is Elvis is at the New Alex Theatre until the 24th March before continuing it’s UK Tour. Tickets are available here, priced from £16.90 (plus booking fee)
*I was invited to attend this press event by The Ambassador Group, however this doesn’t affect my opinion of the show, and an honest review will be given in all cases. Too honest in some cases.
**All photos are courtesy of Pamela Raith Photography
***This blog is dedicated to the Elvis-loving Lee family, who recently lost one of their own. Sleep tight Uncle Ronnie.