State Theatre, Sydney.
5 August 2023.
Elvis: A Musical Revolution, produced by David Venn Enterprises, had its world premiere this week at the State Theatre in Sydney. Elvis is A biographical look at the life of Elvis Presley, the undisputed king of rock ’n’ roll, and one of the most celebrated music performers of the last century. Elvis is an inspiring story of one man’s rise from the depths of poverty, to not only a singular word household name, but one that is synonymous with a musical genre. Elvis: A Musical Revolution celebrates Elvis unique style and his background influences that helped shape an era.
Set both in Elvis childhood and adulthood, the show opens with a brief look at his internal struggle that shaped his later days, alongside side a glimpse at the childhood that shaped his compositional style, themes and mood. It then moved to a more in-depth look at his childhood, and how he came to be influenced by the rhythm and blues, gospel, and country music styles that weave their way through his own writing.
Unfortunately, the book left something to be desired. The story kept going back to childhood, youthful Elvis in his childhood underprivileged hometown of Tulepo, Mississippi, which was brilliantly written and developed into the story, interspersed with adult Elvis, famous, working on albums, film and television. It developed to depict the strung-out man whose relatively short but big life ended tragically. The writing seemed to be building up to something of how Elvis’ life ended but was taking its time in somewhat of a slow burn, and then all of a sudden, a big dance number started which felt like it was meant to depict a live show, and the musical ended. It felt very sudden, a long build up to nothing. This was disappointing, with all the potential to tell the truth of the story, keep it real and keep it relatable. These days, we are not afraid of truth, so this felt like they were afraid to tell the whole story. It felt disjointed and unfinished.
Michael Ralph’s choreography in Elvis: The Musical Revolution is genius. The choreographic work had such a wonderful, natural quality to it. Elvis himself moved in the way he felt he wanted to move, with abandonment and an infusion of the energy in the sound he was creating. It permeates each scene, capturing the energy and essence of the late ’40s, ’50s and ’60s in a very tangible way. Whether it be the blocking, or more choreographically focussed scenes, there was a youthful abandonment and energy that seemed to emanate from the king of rock ’n’ roll himself. It lacked the generic stylistic traits we might see in a period piece, the authentic life of the characters and era portrayed in a relatable fashion, 70+ years on. There was some good detail in the blocking, and the use of thoughtfully designed gestural movement.
There were some wonderful ‘wow’ moments in the rock ’n’ roll sections, with the women being flipped around and thrown up here, there and everywhere by their partners, with the same high-energy abandonment that Elvis exuded. It felt like we were watching the boundaries being pushed, a glimpse at the post-war era freedom that the youth of the day were discovering, and stretching their legs into. It felt fresh and exciting. It was no wonder the generations before them were scandalized by what Elvis’ brought to their screens, and their teens.
Rob Mallett as Elvis was excellent, he shone brightly as the star he portrayed. His mannerisms, vocal talent, presence and ability to emulate the king was superb. He took this marathon of a show in his stride, with stamina, power and the musical prowess to play such a legend of the music industry.
Rhys James Hankey played Young Elvis in the opening night cast. He was adorable, sweet and strong in his character, with beautiful vocals and an endearing earnestness that worked well in his portrayal of the young, passionate musician who broke racial boundaries and was drawn to rhythm and blues ‘black’ music from a young age. He did not see the boundaries so strongly drawn by the adults and culture around him; he only saw and heard what moved him, and it was a beautiful portrayal of a child’s approach to others – the innocence of youth and the lack of prejudice. The entire cast had a wonderful energy and stamina, notably Kirby Burgess as Ann Margaret’s energy and exuberance were catching.
The costumes were fun, capturing the street style in a natural fashion, whilst bringing all the glitz and glam of Elvis’ quintessential stage style in the show numbers. The rotating stage, along with a mezzanine level allowed for a full stage and varying points of interest to view.
Elvis: A Musical Revolution was a great tribute to the legend who helped shape musical history. For fans of the king, and fans of music, this one is essential viewing. To be able to hear and experience Elvis’ work and life in such a curated show is an opportunity not to be missed!
By Linda Badger of Dance Informa.