Elvis Presley, King of Rock and Roll, made an impact on the world that has lasted going on 70 years. Dying at the young age of 42, Presley's life and achievements have been discussed, scrutinised, researched and celebrated for decades. There are various documentaries, tribute shows, television specials and two motion pictures that have dissected facets of his upbringing and career; his childhood growing up in Tupelo, Mississippi, his tremulous relationship with manager Colonel Tom Parker, his rocky relationship with with Priscilla, his film career, his controversial rise to fame - the list is endless. For this reason, most mediums choose a focal point for the narrative - Luhrmann's 2022 film Elvis, for example, focusses on the tragedy of Presley's fish-bowl career thanks to Col. Parker's immigration mess and gambling debts. Elvis: A Musical Revolution, however, attempts to cover it all, with a sort of scrap-book script and a whole lot of musical segues to paste it together.
Elvis: A Musical Revolution was penned by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti. The show begins with Elvis as a young boy (a role shared by four different actors- on this occasion, the delightful Luca Dahan), and builds on a foundation of Presley's upbringing as a white boy in a black community. We spend quite a bit of time here - which lays down the perfect tracks to gear the narrative's trajectory towards Presley's response to the later assassination of Martin Luther King. Jr. A track on which a train comes to abrupt screeching holt before it reaches it's final (seemingly obvious) destination - but not before it makes 27 detours.
The middle of the show is a hot-pot of snapshots - the first recordings at Sun Studios, Presley's strong bond with his mother, his relationship with Priscilla, conscription, and the long string of mostly-terrible movies. The trouble is, aside from Gladys Presley (Noni McCallum), literally none of these subsidiary characters are fleshed out beyond 'this is a person that knew Elvis'. Priscilla Presley literally appears in four scenes - they meet and kiss; she visits a film set; she's screaming at him about the newspapers; she's had a baby; the end. Everything that happens in between - you'll need to look up on Wikipedia.
Playing the King of Rock and Roll himself is star of stage and screen Rob Mallett. Mallet has the signature dance moves and luscious vocals down to an art. Working hard with the truely cringe-worthy material he's been given - his vocals were at points mind-blowingly uncannily similar to that of Elvis himself. Noni McCallum is beautiful as Gladys Presley - warm, loving and affectionate. Kirby Burgess is absolute fire as Anne-Margret/Marion, presenting sensational choreography by Michael Ralph, Burgess is electric.
Joti Gore and Jo-Anne Jackson are sublime as Roy Brown and Sister Rosetta Tharpe - serving up mellifluous vocals every time they croon. The band - led by musical director Daniel Puckey is solid, however the overindulgence of ensemble numbers and unaltered musical arrangements sometimes makes the music feel underwhelming, as it seems to serve simply to bloat out a very lacklustre script.
To quote a member of the general public who was walking behind me as we exited: "It's not the best thing I've seen". Whilst the cast is top-notch, the script doesn't flesh out characters, the narrative leads nowhere, the set (Designed by Dan Potra) is almost literally a black box with some LED lights, the wigs (Trent Whitmore) are very hit and miss (Priscilla's lace-front can be seen from the Dress Circle) and the sound (Greg Ginger) is at times, obnoxiously loud.
The show concludes with the expected 1968 Christmas Comeback concert - but unbelievably after a fleeting mention of the assassination of Dr King, pulls the handbreak right before the indelible 'If I Can Dream'. A confusing end to an unfulfilled script.
If you are a die-hard Elvis fan, you'll love Mallet and be able to fill in the gaps yourself. If you're not as familiar - this might be very rough ride.
Elvis: A Musical Revolution is playing a limited season at The Atheneum Theatre. Tickets and information can be found here.
Photos: Ken Leanfore