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Elvis: A Musical Revolution - State Theatre (NSW)

Written by Sean Cercone & David Abbinanti. Directed by Alister Smith.


Reviewed by Justin Clarke

State Theatre, Sydney Until September 10th, 2023


4 STARS


- Rob Mallett shines as the King of Rock'n'Roll in a production that, whilst not a "revolution" gives Elvis fans more than enough to dance to -


The world seems to be on an Elvis Presley high in recent years. With the resurgence of the King in the Baz Luhrmann award-nominated Elvis 2022 film, the King of Rock and Roll appears to have never left our collective minds. Premiering at the State Theatre in Sydney, Elvis: A Musical Revolution is making its theatrical debut, bringing a new angle to the King’s story, told through the people who knew him best. With over 40 of Presley’s best hits, the production may not live up to its “revolution” title, but is boldly led through the jaw-dropping talent of Rob Mallett.


Where Luhrmann’s film made the questionable decision to tell Presley’s life story through the lens of his corrupt, vile manager (with an even more questionable accent by Tom Hanks), writers Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti focus instead on the influences that solidified Elvis in Rock ‘n’ Roll history.


Elvis: A Musical Revolution Media Call Images. Credit: Don Arnold


Starting with a silhouetted Elvis (Rob Mallett) seemingly crumbling under the weight of his own name, he is spoken to by a younger version of himself (Rhys James Hankey) giving an ode of wisdom imparted to him by his late mother. From here, we’re transported back to the influences of Presley’s young life by the blues music of his youth. Cercone and Abbinanti shed light on the fact that Presley’s musical idolatry and hip-swinging choreography comes from the southern artists of colour in his era, whose music, whilst loved by many, was deemed too “coloured” for national appeal. Throughout, we are shown the loving relationship between Presley and his mother (Noni McCallum) whose support and love inspired some of his greatest ballads such as “Love Me Tender”.


As Elvis, Rob Mallett is the revolution that the title promises. With so many Elvis Presley impersonations and roles being undertaken, a theatrical retelling could have easily come down to a cliched Elvis shtick. Instead, Mallett embodies everything that made Elvis theatrical. From Presley’s deep, sombre tone, through to his high hitting, rocking vocals, Mallett gives a performance that goes beyond the walls of the theatrical realm. Not since Hugh Jackman as Peter Allen has Australia been gifted with a tour de force performance worthy of Tony Award acclaim. When Mallett starts his first guitar riff, with legs twirling and hips wiggling, you are immediately transported out of the theatre and can be forgiven for thinking you’re at an Elvis concert. The casting is absolutely superb!


Outside of Mallett’s performance, the rest of the production runs as you’d expect from a biopic musical. We’re shown the hits of Elvis’ life, from his struggle to find his iconic mix of blues and rock, through to his controversial gyrating on television, Hollywood film career, and his drafting in the army. Throughout all this, the undercurrent of Elvis’ hits are mixed and spotlit.


With over 40 of his songs to play with, some are given the limelight more than others. Ask any Elvis fan which of his songs is their favourite and you’ll more than likely be given a different answer from each. With songs ranging from “Jailhouse Rock”, “Hound Dog”, “That’s All Right”, “All Shook Up”, “Suspicious Minds", “Heartbreak Hotel”, “Burning Love”, “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Good Rockin’ Tonight”, “Can’t Help Falling In Love”, “Earth Angel”, “Don’t Be Cruel”, “Are You Lonesome”, “Blue Moon of Kentucky”, “See See Rider”, and “A Little Less Conversation”, there’s enough to wiggle in your seat to.


With direction by Alister Smith, the flow of the show runs seamlessly, jumping between past and present, with dates projected to keep audiences clued in to when they are. Live recorded versions of television shows are projected onto the back of the stage, recreating some iconic moments of Presley’s career. One of which being a duet between Elvis and Frank Sinatra (Ben Hall amongst other roles) as they sung each other’s songs. The decision to have the actors play their own instruments in smaller numbers is to be applauded, as Mallet and the members who play Elvis’ band adds to the authenticity and realism of the show.


Not since Hugh Jackman as Peter Allen has Australia been gifted with a tour de force performance worthy of Tony Award acclaim.

Ian Stenlake takes on the snake-like role of Colonel Parker, proving himself to be as oily a manager as you could want. His lecherous nature and manipulation of Presley is given enough of the spotlight, without the show swerving into the drugs and eventual demise of the King due to Parker’s ongoing pursuit of profit at Elvis’ expense.


Unfortunately, Annie Chiswell is given less to do as Priscilla Presley. Her first entrance at the start of Act Two sees the sweet blossoming romance between herself and Elvis in a tender guitar tutorial. The next time we see Priscilla, her and Elvis’ marriage is falling apart and fighting over Elvis’ neglect of their relationship in the face of gossip headlines. It’s a swift tonal shift that continues to do Priscilla Presley an injustice - we’ll have to wait for Sofia Coppola to give her a voice in the upcoming biopic film.


Amongst the largely numbered and diverse cast, Michael Ralph’s choreography is ambitiously impressive. In large swing numbers, actors are thrown, flipped and vaulted over each other with ease, adding vast amounts of energy amongst the score. Aided by Isaac Lummins’ accuracy in Elvis’ iconic costumes as well as the ensemble’s quick changes through era and setting, there’s a gorgeous authenticity throughout the production. Dan Potra’s set design keeps the staging simple, changing space through sliding columns that resemble the necks of guitars, with the added effect of the stage’s revolve to add dynamism to the show.


Whilst the overall storytelling may not be a revolution in itself, there’s more than enough energy and iconic songs to captivate you throughout. Guided under Rob Mallett’s instantly iconic and career-making performance as Presley himself, Elvis: A Musical Revolution proves that the King still has life left in him.

 

Elvis: A Musical Revolution


CREATIVES

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


CAST

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)

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