ELVIS: A Musical Revolution - Athenaeum Theatre (VIC)
Written by Sean Cercone & David Abbinanti. Directed by Alister Smith.
Reviewed by Annika Loci
Athenaeum Theatre, Melbourne
Booking until 24th December
- An ambitious production that pays homage to Elvis' evolution, but leaves the highs and lows of his career wanting for more -
The musical theatre industry is in the current trend of revivals or jukebox musicals celebrating biographies of well-known icons or staging blockbuster movie adaptations. Australian stages are in no way immune to this, with recent revivals of Wicked, Rocky Horror Show, and Miss Saigon, together with jukebox musicals Moulin Rouge and Cruel Intentions, as well as bio-musicals like Tina the Musical and now the Australian offering of Elvis, A Musical Revolution.
Known around the world as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll, this musical presented by David Venn Enterprises, explores the early influences and ultimate success of Elvis Presley as he exploded onto the music industry with his “own new distinctive style”, sound and world-wide craze that would forever be etched into history.
With a production team full of highly experienced and award-winning creatives from the Australian and international musical theatre industry, Elvis: A Musical Revolution is certainly ambitious. Boasting a book from writing duo Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti (orchestration & arrangements), together with director Alister Smith (Cruel Intentions), Musical Director Daniel Puckey (Hamilton International tour; Cruel Intentions) and choreography by Michael Ralph (The Wedding Singer; Bring it On) this team is well versed in jukebox and biographical musicals. So how do you cram such an extraordinary life into two and half hours? Result is… you don’t. Smith acknowledges in his notes this is not a “womb to tomb” story, but rather “moments that collide across time & space”.
Elvis: A Musical Revolution Media Call Images. Credit: Don Arnold
The production bookends with Elvis’ famously successful ’68 Comeback Special and attempts to pay homage to moments in Elvis’s life between 1946 to 1968. Daniel Lim provides a lovely innocence to the interjected memories of childhood; from an 11yr old receiving his first guitar, living within the segregated south, and discovering black gospel and blues music. Rob Mallet brings adult Elvis to life, reflecting on moments that eventually will crown him the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Unfortunately this vertical narrative technique of story-telling feels a bit frenzied, cluttered and superficial at times, without enough depth to feel full connection to surrounding scenes. This results in only a few authentically poignant personal moments, such as his close relationship with his mother Gladys (played beautifully by Noni McCallum). The inclusion of Elvis and Pricilla’s (Annie Chiswell) romance is minimal and is left feeling tokenistic. Chiswell does well with the limited opportunities to show growth from a lovestruck teen to a sudden jealous and miserable wife and mother.
Where Cercone & Abbinanti’s book does shine is in the montages, especially the 1967/1968 “Movie Medley” which takes a rather comical and mocking look at the increasingly dreadful Hollywood movies Elvis’ manager Colonel Parker commits Elvis to. An unrecognizable Ian Stenlake presents a fabulous money-hungry Parker. Also deserving of recognition in juggling a variety of characters and non-stop energy is Matt Heywood as Vernon Presley and Kirby Burgess as Ann-Margret & Marion.
With such a show, authentic representation of Elvis is key. Rob Mallet has the herculean task of mastering the look, moves, and sound of the changing Elvis, without it looking like a tacky impersonation. With the support and era knowledge experts of costumer designer Issac Lummis and wigs/hair designer Trent Whitford, Mallet transforms and fully embodies the different eras of the King, from his quiff to his quivering legs. Alongside his background in dance Mallet shows off his lovely baritone bass voice giving great stage presence, making it hard to take your eyes of him, a worthy and highly enjoyable performance.
Mallet transforms and fully embodies the different eras of the King, from his quiff to his quivering legs.
Musical Director Daniel Puckey expertly leads a nine-piece band through the jam packed score. With the choice to include over 40 songs, many songs are performed in variety of formats and from a few bars to full length, with a very moving full company acappella rendition of “Peace in the Valley” to acknowledge Gladys’ passing. However such creative score choices by Abbinanti can leave the show occasionally feeling like it is weaving a thin line between a highly produced tribute show and actual musical theatre.
The extremely talented ensemble shows off their adaptability with impressively speedy and constant quick changes whilst keeping up their incredible high energy for Ralphs sensational choreography. Utilizing every inch of stage possible and incorporating Lummis beautiful and bright period costumes, it’s a breath of fresh air to see some exciting and complicated dance technique and sequences. Act 2’s “Blue Suede Shoes” number presented during Elvis’ army service is one of the shows impressive highlights with cast working at 110% with some show stealing partner lifts and tricks providing audible audience gasp moments and cheering.
Set designer Dan Potra has the Athenaeum Theatre’s proscenium arch trimmed with bright dressing room mirror lights. Combined with the often-split tier set and revolving stage is video design by David McKinnon. Projected archival imagery/footage and dates helps move the show along smoothly between decades and montages and providing time for some extraordinary quick changes to be achieved.
Elvis, A Musical Revolution may not explore the highs and lows Elvis paid for fame, but rather celebrates a music icon, acknowledging people and places that once influenced a young boy to change the face of music forever. As an overall visually engaging and accurate production for Elvis fans grab your petticoats, bobby socks and work in that hair gel to enjoy a lovely nostalgic voyage through his musical evolution.
Elvis: A Musical Revolution
David Venn PRODUCER
Sean Cercone WRITER
David Abbinanti WRITER
Alister Smith DIRECTOR
Michael Ralph CHOREOGRAPHER
Daniel Puckey MUSIC DIRECTOR
Tanya Mitford ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR
Isaac Lummins COSTUME DESIGNER
Declan O'neill LIGHTING DESIGNER
Dan Potra SET DESIGNER
Greg Ginger SOUND DESIGNER
David Mckinnon VIDEO DESIGNER
Adrian Szondy ASSOCIATE MUSIC DIRECTOR
Kirby Burgess ASSISTANT CHOREOGRAPHER
Emma Waxman CASTING COORDINATOR
Mark Andrew ELVIS CONSULTANT
Rob Mallett ELVIS
Noni Mccallum GLADYS PRESLEY
Ian Stenlake COLONEL PARKER
Annie Chiswell PRISCILLA PRESLEY
Kirby Burgess ANN-MARGARET
Matt Heyward VERNON PRESLEY
Sienna Embrey DIXIE
Ben Hall SAM PHILLIPS
Aidan O Cleirigh SCOTTY MOORE
Hanlon Innocent BILL BLACK
Connor Morel DJ FONTANA
Charly Williams REVEREND & OTHERS
Joti Gore ROY BROWN & OTHERS
Jo-Anne Jackson ROSETTA & OTHERS
Zuleika Khan BETTY & OTHERS
Nic Collins ENSEMBLE
Lauren Jimmieson ENSEMBLE
James Mac Alpine ENSEMBLE
Callum Marshall ENSEMBLE
Jarryd Byrne ON STAGE SWING
William Motunuu ON STAGE SWING
Moniquewa Williams ON STAGE SWING
Nicole Vella ON STAGE SWING
Oliver Bosward YOUNG ELVIS
Rhys James Hankey YOUNG ELVIS
Finn Walsham YOUNG ELVIS
Tommy Kent YOUNG ELVIS
David Cuny ALTERNATE ELVIS (FOR SELECT PERFORMANCES)