Instantly distinguished by the round red lights spelling out his name and his black leather jacket and pants, Rob Mallett’s Elvis Presley transports theatre-goers at Her Majesty’s back to the ’68 Comeback Special when the “King of Rock ’n’ Roll” proved his relevance by defying his ultra-controlling manager Colonel Tom Parker.

Elvis, meant to conform to a schmaltzy Christmas showcase, stuck to his style on live television and created something iconic. But as the legend we’re seeing depicted on stage sings “Burning Love”, he’s not quite the Elvis that America saw projected from a studio in California. He’s clearly scared, and we’re as confused by his reactions as he is. If we want to get the full story, we’ve got to rewind.

Bookended by the ’68 Special, Elvis: A Musical Revolution first flashes back to Beale Street in Memphis, 1947, where white kids want black music but the record producers don’t. Living among the African-American population, Elvis’s world is poverty-laden and spiritually-enhanced, and all he wants to do is play the music he’s grown up with: gospel, blues, hillbilly country.

Told with a dynamic swiftness that moves you along like a speeding train, this is the story of the man who defined not only a generation, but rock ’n’ roll itself.

More than 40 of Elvis’s most formative and beloved songs are showcased as the audience witnesses the incredible rise of the music star played by actor and singer Mallett (previously seen in The Rocky Horror Show and TV programs such as House Husbands).

In one pivotal scene, ego and exhaustion get the better of Elvis and he snaps at his band, who can’t seem to get “Hard-Headed Women” right – although he ultimately and instinctually shows them the way. It’s a moment where just when he’s beginning to feel old-school next to the likes of The Beatles, the Stones and Jimi Hendrix – and the world was maybe feeling it, too – he proves his inimitable genius.

We saw this corrosive fatigue in Baz Luhrmann’s 2022 film Elvis, where the focus was on the relationship between the Colonel and Elvis. But the live touring show ­– presented by David Venn Enterprises, ­and the result of an Australian-American partnership – is far from an adaptation of that movie, as the focus here really is on the music and the vibe of the best of times.

Elvis: A Musical Revolution – the dancers are impressive. Photo: Nicole Cleary

Venn is known for taking formative, cult-like films (The Wedding Singer) or books (50 Shades of Grey) and parodying them so that comedy is enhanced and the “feel-goodness” is front and centre. In Elvis: A Musical Revolution, the confusion of the opening performance, the tension during the aforementioned studio recording, and an intense moment between Elvis and wife Priscilla after the birth of their child are the only scenes that suggest Elvis’s ultimate demise. The rest is jitterbug and jive. The decision, then, to begin and end with the ’68 Special is an interesting one; this is where Elvis is on top, rather than toppled by fame and exploitation.

With a book written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti, and a creative team led by director Alister Smith and music director Daniel Puckey, the show is non-stop energy, especially the dancing. The ensemble seems full of exceptional dancers – a true testament to choreographer Michael Ralph. A highlight sees Kirby Burgess as a feisty Ann-Margret, in black tights and red top, moving across the floor spectacularly with Mallett, fully reminiscent of the original Viva Las Vegas number.

The entire cast is hammed-up, save for Noni McCallum, whose rendering of Gladys Presley is so tender it adds a level of nostalgia to the production that’s unchained to bubble-gum and 45s.

Mallett’s voice may have faltered in spots but he appears to give the interpretation his all and displays endless stamina. He certainly got the desired response from the crowd – all dressed in their ’50s and ’60s gear, and suspending disbelief enough to embrace the fantasy with exuberant whoops and extended applause. It feels a defining role.

And hats off to nine-year-old Nemanja Ilic, whose portrayal of the boy Elvis is pretty much faultless. He’ll go far.

Elvis: A Musical Revolution is playing at Her Majesty’s Theatre until April 28. Read InReview’s interview with Rob Mallett here.

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