"Blue Suede Shoes" (The Elvis Ballet) is a winner!

Spotlight on The King: on a regular basis EIN examines a new release or issue in the Elvis world. In this edition we shine our spotlight on: ‘A Lost Elvis Treasure……Blue Suede Shoes (The Elvis Ballet)’.

A ballet set to the music of Elvis Aron Presley! Who are we trying to kid? But yes it did happen and it was a major hit. On May 29, 1996 a most unusual ballet opened at Cleveland’s State Theatre.

The world premiere of Blue Suede Shoes had both critics and audiences in raptures.

The Cleveland Plain Dealer printed the headline: ‘Blue Suede Shoes sizzles with perfection!’ while the opening night audience gave the performers a 15 minute standing ovation.


Those that were lucky enough to see Blue Suede Shoes were mesmerised by its action and color. The brainchild of artistic director, Dennis Nahat, it featured 18 brilliant sets and 280 spectacular, glittering costumes designed by Hollywood’s legendary, Bob Mackie.

The ballet sequences were choreographed by Nahat and the Cleveland San Jose Ballet company. The ballet was presented by New Dance Ventures and the Cleveland San Jose Ballet.

What was particularly innovative about the Elvis ballet was the way it used The King’s music to tell a powerful story about innocence and the post-war American Dream. As Dennis Nahat commented:

“We didn’t realise it then, but Elvis set the tone for the time. I don’t know if the current generation really understands who he was. To my generation, he’s an icon. He came on the scene and hit us between the eyes and captured our feelings with music. He freed an entire generation.”

The structure of Blue Suede Shoes was clever. Each of the 36 Elvis songs symbolised individual parts of the story (with Guitar Man used as an overture linking different scenes).

For example, Arthur tries to woo Sally (I Want You, I Need You, I Love You), the local bad boy arrives (Devil In Disguise) and the Army beckons (Soldier Boy). Returning home after a lonely winter (Long Lonely Highway) the GI’s are unrecognised (Stranger In My Own Home Town).

Later a fight ensues to the strains of Trouble and the boys spend a night (One Night) behind bars (Jailhouse Rock). Other songs prominent in the ballet included Hound Dog, Shake, Rattle and Roll, Bossa Nova Baby, Starting Today, Tutti Frutti, Are You Lonesome Tonight? And Mama Liked The Roses.

Critics also noted how Blue Suede Shoes incorporated contemporary social themes - for instance, In The Ghetto was used to symbolise the effect of drugs. And initially, more traditional patrons of the ballet form were quite dismissive. Dennis Nahat commented:

“We had some people say, “How can you use Elvis in this classical art form?’, but I just said, ‘Elvis is classic.’ “

The spectacle of the ballet involved seven scenes: High School Hot Dog Drive-In In the Army Highways & Lonely Streets Saturday Night Jailhouse Rockin’ Golden Oldies At the end of the day Blue Suede Shoes displayed artistic integrity and was notable for introducing new patrons to the art form that is ballet.

Described at the time as being as easy to watch as a movie Blue Suede Shoes brought new ideas to the fine arts medium. It seems Elvis’s ability to continually transcend musical, social and cultural genres is limitless! At a time when the fine arts in the US were in trouble, facing government funding cuts and falling patronage, Blue Suede Shoes enjoyed immense success with 63,000 people attending its opening season.

Buoyed by its success, the producers developed plans to tour the production nationally and internationally. Sadly the plans to stage the ballet outside of the US were never realised, apparently due to financial and logistical considerations. As a result overseas fans missed out being captivated by its fresh and energetic approach to the Elvis story.

The soundtrack to Blue Suede Shoes was issued by RCA (#67458-2) in 1997 as a double CD set with attractive slipcase and a 16 page full-color booklet. Sadly, a visual record of the ballet was never made.

Verdict: Blue Suede Shoes was a brave, socially aware and sparkling undertaking that richly deserved the success it received. EIN Postscript: Our article is timely as a new musical featuring Elvis recordings, Can’t Help Falling In Love, is now in production in the US with talk of it playing on Broadway.

This edition of Spotlight on The King was prepared by Nigel Patterson © 2003

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