Theatre Review: THIS IS ELVIS – Palace Theatre, Manchester


The King may be dead, but THIS IS ELVIS proves Elvis Presley’s legacy and his songs live on

It’s hard to imagine these days but back in 1968, Elvis Presley was widely regarded as having had his day. After a string of so-so movies, a bunch of songs of variable quality and the British invasion of bands such as the Beatles, the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s career was described as being ‘in the toilet’ until a special television show, now known as THE ’68 COMEBACK SPECIAL, reignited the career of America’s greatest chart star.

Bill Kenwright’s latest production, THIS IS ELVIS, takes us back to that very night as music icon Elvis Presley is about to make his long-awaited TV comeback after years away from the stage. Despite his nerves, the TV special draws phenomenal ratings and soon re-establishes Elvis as the major entertainment star of the decade. Twelve months later, Elvis stars at the International Hotel in Vegas, performing live for the first time in seven years and securing his place in history as the King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

The cast of THIS IS ELVIS

Stomping along at an incredible pace, THIS IS ELVIS is an energetic and electrifying musical which celebrates the incredible musical talent of Elvis Presley. Recreating all the drama leading up to his comeback, as well as staging the monumental concert, the show brilliantly works its way through the star’s stunning back catalogue including TROUBLE, HEARTBREAK HOTEL, BLUE SUEDE SHOES, HOUND DOG, LOVE ME TENDER, ALL SHOOK UP and SUSPICIOUS MINDS. Andy Walmsley’s Vegas-style set also adds to the spectacle as bright, fast-changing colours light up the stage during high-tempo numbers and subtly dims during the slower songs to give the night an authentic 60’s theme.

Much of the show’s success is down to the internationally renowned and award-winning Steve Michaels who channels Elvis perfectly. Not only does he look and sound like the King, but he struts around the stage with exactly the kind of confidence and swagger you’d imagine Elvis would have had five decades ago.

A special mention also must go to Reuven Gershon and Mark Pearce as Elvis’ friends Joe Esposito and Charlie Hodge respectively and the extremely talented nine-piece live band, complete with backing singers and a brass section, who deliver a flawless musical performance.

Steve Michaels as Elvis in THIS IS ELVIS

Yet, while THIS IS ELVIS certainly looks and sounds the part, the show doesn’t really know whether it’s a jukebox musical or a tribute concert. The first act recreates all the drama that leads to Elvis’s musical comeback, touching some of the troubles in the singer’s life such as his failing marriage to Priscilla, his drug use and his conflict with his manager, Colonel Tom Parker. But the storytelling element is almost forgotten completely in the second act as we watch a replica of the Las Vegas concert as 21 classic Elvis songs are belted out back-to-back including VIVA LAS VEGAS, BURNING LOVE, CAN’T HELP FALLING IN LOVE WITH YOU and JAILHOUSE ROCK.

A number of lighting and set issues on the night also interrupted the overall flow of the show. A late spotlight left the actors in darkness on a number of occasions and a malfunctioning set in the first half saw a flickering back light distract from an emotional moment on stage in which Elvis appeals to his deceased mother for guidance.

That said, there is more than enough energy here to keep the action flowing and by the end of the night, Michaels’ enthusiasm for the part alone should have you dancing in the aisles.

The King may be dead, but THIS IS ELVIS proves Elvis Presley’s legacy and songs live on.

3.5 out of 5 stars

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