REVIEW: ELVIS Las Vegas 1969@The Woodville, Gravesend

Besi Besemar May 6, 2017

ELVIS Las Vegas 1969 is really two shows in one. A play and a musical!

The first half, mainly spoken with little music is a dramatic reconstruction of the hours leading to Elvis Presley’s return to the stage on July 31, 1969, after a ten-year break from live concerts, to make a string of low-budget Hollywood movies.

The second half, is a stunning and faithful reconstruction of the set Elvis performed that night at the International Hotel in front of 2,000 of the world’s top celebrities.

Writer and director Gerry Tebbutt has produced a smart script, which cleverly introduces us to the professional entourage that surrounded Elvis, affectionately known as the ‘Memphis Mafia’ and all the principal characters in his life.

He creates a believable storyline, cramming in so much background information about Elvis, that by the end of the 50 minute first half I really felt I intimately knew all about him and his hangers-on.

The narrative at times is dark, almost depressing. Tebbutt pulls no punches, shining a spotlight on Elvis’s flaws while managing to maintain our sympathy in his character.

Elvis is weak, controlled by his manager Colonel Tom Parker, played very effectively by Tom Dussek. At times Parker’s treatment of Elvis verges on bullying. However, Elvis seems happy to let this man control his life so he can enjoy himself with his male mates. Joe Connors plays his stage manager and close confident Charlie Hodge perfectly, keeping the action moving nicely along while providing much of the humour and wisecracks.

Despite his legendary sex symbol status, Elvis it seems, was more comfortable in the company of men, than with his young, beautiful wife Priscilla who is sidelined by his relationship with his ‘buddies’.

Elvis is innocent and naive, he is generous beyond belief and childlike in his approach to everything, but despite all his weaknesses which Tebbutt carefully identifies, when he goes on stage he becomes the ‘King’ to his adoring fans.

The first half finishes with Elvis waiting to go on stage and the second half opens with him arriving to recreate the original set he performed on July 31, 1969 at the International Hotel in Las Vegas, complete with banter between the audience and Elvis.

While Scott Elvis who plays Elvis is convincing in the first half in his serious acting role, he explodes into life in the second half with a stunning live performance of Elvis numbers including, Blue Suede Shoes, All Shook Up, Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, Heartbreak Hotel, Hound Dog, Are You Lonesome Tonight, In the Ghetto, Suspicious Minds and Can’t Help Falling in Love to mention a few. He commands the stage, has a very impressive voice and phrases beautifully.

Scott is backed by a superb band of live musicians which include three guitarist, a keyboard, horns, trumpets, trombone, drums, three female and one male backing singer. Some of the musicians double as character in the first half of the show and the collective sound they make is glorious and had the older women in the audience up and dancing, including a very old lady to the side of me, who rose from her wheelchair to dance to the soundtrack of her youth. Her carer told me later she was 89, it was quite intoxicating.

Attention to detail throughout the production is precise right down to the original chic black tunic and bell bottoms Elvis wore in 1969.

The set is minimal but effective, however, once the second half commenced it didn’t really matter because the electric atmosphere these first class musicians generated in the theatre, transported us all back to the showroom at the International Hotel in Las Vegas in 1969.

I really enjoyed this show, especially the second half which gave us a first class orgy of classic rock and roll numbers. However, I sat all evening waiting to hear American Trilogy which I found out later Elvis did not actually sing in the 1969 show.

At the end of the show the voice over announced “Elvis has left the building” leaving us, especially the dancing ladies in the audience wanting and expecting an encore. Maybe as the show is developed an encore should be considered to include American Trilogy or a mega mix of the main numbers because those dancing ladies of a certain age in the audience were just not ready to leave the party and go home.

The show is produced by Brighton based Anscombe Production Associates and based on an original idea by Neale Hobday.