"Elvis Presley is the greatest cultural force in the 20th century."

(Leonard Bernstein)


"If you're an Elvis fan, no explanation is necessary; If you're not an Elvis fan, no explanation is possible."

(George Klein)


"For a dead man, Elvis Presley is awfully noisy."

(Professor Gilbert B. Rodman)


"History has him as this good old country boy, Elvis is about as country as Bono!"

(Jerry Schilling)






Presley may be rock 'n' rolling over in his grave

During high school choir practice, some friends and I would amuse ourselves by trying to imagine, and imitate, how Ethel Merman might have reinterpreted U2 songs.

The point, of course, was that artistry celebrated in one style or genre doesn't necessarily translate to another. I suspect this joke, however obvious, would have been lost on the producers, casting agents and others involved in the new Elvis Presley homage All Shook Up (* out of four), the latest professional karaoke contest to masquerade as a Broadway musical.

Say what you will about Mamma Mia! and Good Vibrations, two other greatest-hits showcases designed to tap into the growing nostalgia and burgeoning bank accounts of aging pop fans. However off-putting their opportunism and lack of imagination, both at least aimed for musical authenticity, drawing on the expertise of insiders such as ABBA's Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson and Brian Wilson colleague Van Dyke Parks, and enlisting performers with a passing affinity for rock 'n' roll textures.

In contrast, most of the game young cast members of All Shook Up, which opened Thursday at the Palace Theatre, sing and act as if they just stepped off a Marvin Hamlisch tribute tour. There are some pretty and potent voices here, to be sure; but their approach to the material tends to range from painfully self-conscious to outright clueless.

The calculated growls and mannered sneers that sometimes embellish golden oldies such as Hound Dog, Don't Be Cruel and That's All Right only add to the false, sterile feel of the numbers. Joe DiPietro's book is even more tone-deaf. The plot, an unlikely and idiotic hybrid of Grease, Footloose and Twelfth Night, involves a tomboyish mechanic who falls for a guitar-wielding, hip-swiveling, motorcycle-riding drifter with long black sideburns.

Tall, dark and hammy, Cheyenne Jackson plays the Elvis-like leading man with all the sincerity of a Chippendale dancer trying to bilk a drunk matron. Even at his most kitschy, Presley projected a certain earnestness; irony was the last quality you would associate with him. Yet like many contemporary shows that have nothing new or interesting to say, All Shook Up revels in winking jokes and self-reference - even as it makes lame attempts to touch on issues such as racism and homophobia. Cutting social satire is provided by way of a female mayor, played with cartoonish haughtiness by Alix Korey, who runs around lecturing everyone on moral decency.

Which Elvis fans, you may ask, will want to witness this strange marriage of snark and schlock? Some of the same ones, I suspect, who were drawn to Las Vegas toward the end of his life - not to catch a glimpse of his former glory, or even to mourn its loss, but to celebrate the same triumph of excess over substance that, come to think of it, has increasingly characterized Broadway musicals in the decades since.

In one number, If I Can Dream, "angels" emerge on motorbikes suspended in midair by wires, sporting shiny suits and pouffy white wings. The person accompanying me remarked that it was a horrible thing to do to that song. And to all the others, he should have added.

(Show Review, Source: USA Today)

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Elvis Odd Spot (updated 15 Mar)