Review by Lauren Donikian
Legend, Icon, and King of Rock ‘n’ Roll Elvis Presley lives again in this latest offering from David Venn Enterprises. Focusing on his journey to success, this musical explores his early years, finding a love for music, immersing himself in a different culture and sound and creating his own style that will never be forgotten.
Generations know the story of the incredibly talented artist that left the world too soon, and with the release of Elvis the movie by Baz Luhrmann there has been a resurgence of interest in his life and music. Elvis a Musical Revolution tells the tale of young Elvis, and some of the darker times in his life. Flipping between flashbacks of a young Elvis and old Elvis was an interesting choice, but one that I didn’t feel paid off. Written by David Abbinanti and Sean Cercone, I can only describe the show as ‘bitsy’. You don’t spend long enough in a scene or location to feel grounded in the story. I can appreciate that Elvis’ life was chaotic, but he was also a person that lived, loved, and grieved. The choice to follow some story lines over others was confusing and relied too much on the audience knowing his story already. I think this was a missed opportunity. Especially when you employ young Australian talent in your show, then you also create a space for young Australians to watch and learn about one of the greatest artists in the world. Unfortunately, the first half felt long and heavy and whilst the second half added a bit more excitement, I didn’t leave feeling uplifted. There were some poignant moments that I’m glad we got to see play out. The relationship between Elvis and his mother and a tender moment with a baby Lisa Marie made him human, instead of a music and movie making machine.
For the most part, my issue with Elvis a Musical Revolution was with the flow of the show rather than the performances. Rob Mallett stars as Elvis and does a great job emulating the King. There are times when he sounds just like him, and his dancing skills are on point. Noni McCallum, who plays his mother, is a welcome surprise, with a lovely voice and leveled performance she clearly makes those around her feel comfortable - Especially with a young Elvis played by Rhys James Hankey the night of this performance. Rhys was impressive, given that he had a lot to carry he was willing, eager and all round excited to be there. He has great energy on stage and the clarity in his voice was beautiful to listen to. Special shout out to Zuleika Khan who plays Betty and other roles throughout the performance. Her warmth and grace on stage what just what the first half of the story needed. The ensemble was enigmatic and made sure to hit every mark. With tight choreography, costumes, and wigs (all reminiscent of its time) they gave their all and were very supportive of each other. Towards the end of the performance there is a break where there is a costume change, which goes a little long, but the cast do a great job of upping the ante for the closing number.
Overall, I felt that there were gaps in the story that needed to be filled. I think the use of video with audio played through various parts of the performance was meant to correct this. It was projected onto the stage, during costume changes, and set changes. I couldn’t see the full effect from where I was sitting, so it may have been more impactful from another position in the theatre, but for me it felt like a crutch. There were some smart decisions made which I believe helped to move the show along, like the use of the revolving stage, the use of simple props to help identify locations, and the use of the bridge for the ensemble to use, for choreography. Cue Jailhouse Rock. The band sounded amazing which is no surprise and had it been a couple of hours of straight Elvis’ songs with the cast singing and doing the choreography I would’ve been content, but it wasn’t.
If you are a diehard fan of Elvis that already knows the history and just want to get lost in the music, then see this show for the incredible musical talent that is on display.