Steve Michaels in THIS IS ELVIS

Steve Michaels talks to Frankly My Dear UK about taking on the iconic role of Elvis Presley in THIS IS ELVIS

The world is full of Elvis impersonators. In fact, a report by CNN showed there to be 85,000 Elvis impersonators around the world with experts predicting that by 2040, Elvis impersonators will make up a third of the world population! So when I went to see Bill Kenwright’s new jukebox musical THIS IS ELVIS at Manchester’s Palace Theatre this week, I wasn’t really expecting to be blown away by anything special – until Steve Michaels took to the stage.

Formerly known as Stephen Michael Kabakos, Steve Michaels is an international award-winning tribute artist and actor from Canada. Michaels’ masterful performances and remarkable renditions of the King have garnered him worldwide attention and allowed him to play alongside some of Elvis Presley’s iconic band mates including the legendary drummer DJ Fontana and bassist Jerry Scheff.

Michaels’ latest role sees him take on the iconic role of Elvis Presley in THIS IS ELVIS, a new musical about Elvis Presley’s long-awaited TV comeback after years away from the stage. The two-hour show takes the audience back to the night of THE ’68 COMEBACK SPECIAL before recreating Elvis’ famous concert at the International Hotel in Las Vegas.

At a special event at Manchester’s Hard Rock Café, Donna Kelly from Frankly My Dear UK caught up with Michaels to talk about his role in the show and why he feels the King‘s legacy still continues to live on.

Frankly My Dear UK (FMD): We had a great time at the press night of THIS IS ELVIS last night but for those who haven’t seen the show yet, how would you describe THIS IS ELVIS? What can fans expect to see?

Steve Michaels (SM): Elvis! I would say that the show is something that an Elvis fan or rock historian has never seen before. Of course there are shows that spotlight Elvis from the 50s all the way to the 70s and as Elvis fans, we all know how it begins and how it ends but THIS IS ELVIS is a snapshot of Elvis’ career and life. It’s a musical that is bookended by two incredibly great concerts. It starts off with the 68 Comeback which premiered on NBC and it was filmed and conceptualised because Elvis’ career wasn’t doing that great. There were four lads from Britain who were absolutely ripping up the airways and it was time for Elvis to do something. That is where our show begins. It shows Elvis’ inner fight and struggle with all the powers that be and ends with a spectacular recreation of the 1969 International Hotel Vegas concert event. How do you sum that up? Extraordinary!

FMD: Whilst we are familiar with Elvis’ career, there are parts of his private life that we weren’t familiar with until we watched the show. Is there anything you have discovered about Elvis whilst performing in the show or preparing for the role?

SM: You know it’s funny that you say that because I’ve been an Elvis fan my whole life and I was honoured when I received the role. I couldn’t wait because I felt I had this walking encyclopaedia of useless Elvis knowledge and I had to get out there and do something with it. The show has allowed me to explore the man because Mr Bill Kenwright wanted a sincere portrayal, not a characterisation, of Elvis. I realised, last week in fact, that there is one moment in the show where Elvis asks to be alone. For me, that was such an eye opening experience because I thought to myself, Elvis is never alone. I just got choked up. I thought wow, imagine him living in this bubble that he can never get away from and all he wanted to be was alone? It’s very sad. He was eaten up by his own fame.

FMD: We’re so used to seeing Elvis on the screen but how have you got under the skin of the man?

SM: Bill Kenwright’s brilliance as a director. I’ve done a lot of reading of Elvis over the years and I’ve had wonderful conversations with his inner circle including Joe Esposito, Myrna Smith from the Sweet Inspirations and DJ Fontana, pretty much anybody who would give me the opportunity to listen and tell me their stories about Elvis. One of things that really hit home for me the most when preparing for the role was something that Joe Esposito, said to me. He said that Elvis was a man who’d much rather hear your story than tell his own and that he had time for everybody which is a little bit different from the Elvis we saw in the movies who was all “hot dog” and “lets party”. One of the nicest things that was ever said to me was by Joe Esposito and he said “Steve, you possess not only the same qualities you need to possess to perform Elvis on stage but you have his personality off stage”. So I try to tap into myself a little bit and bring my own life lessons to what we are reading and trying to get across on stage.

FMD: You obviously look and sound like Elvis but can you tell us a little bit about your personal journey? How did you discover your inner Elvis?

SM: It was a slow transition I guess. I loved performing Elvis and really enjoy singing his music. I didn’t really wake up one day and think “I’m going to do this” but when I started down that road and getting into the character, you started to think about it. I have a blank palette – my face – and I thought about what I can do to bring the character out. Then, of course, you grow the sideburns and the hair goes from a lighter brown to a jet black – that always helps.

FMD: The Vegas section of the show is incredibly energetic and you really put your all into the performance. How do you keep the energy high night and night?

SM: B12 and Ginseng [laughs]. You get super charged when the music starts and the electricity happens. You see the smiles and the people dancing and clapping and they are giving you energy. You just feed off each other. At the end of the show though, I’m done.

FMD: What do you hope people will take away from the show?

SM: A new Elvis experience that we, as fans, have not seen before. It’s something different and a beautiful story.

THIS IS ELVIS runs at the Palace Theatre, Manchester until 16 May 2018.