It’s crazy that 46 years after his death, we are still captivated by Elvis Presley. So, when I heard that an Elvis musical was coming to Australia, I was a little concerned but even more so, curious.
Authorised by Elvis Presley Enterprises, produced by David Venn, directed by Alister Smith, and written by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti, the new bio-musical Elvis: A Musical Revolution has already made its world premiere stop in Sydney and is now in Australia’s theatre capital, Melbourne.
I’ll cut to the chase; I was a little hesitant about this musical mainly based on how well it would tell Elvis’ story. The musical is not the first to retell the life of this struggling man and musical icon. A lot of Elvis’ journey has been documented through not only his music but his own Hollywood films. There are also films not starring Elvis but are deeply inspired by him. This includes the 2022 Baz Lurhmann release and Disney’s 2002 animated film ‘Lilo and Stitch’, basically an open love letter to the rock n’ roll legend.
Unlike the other versions of Elvis’ tale, Elvis: A Musical Revolution tells of the star’s story in a non-linear way. Following both superstar Elvis and young Elvis, the show often has both versions of Elvis appear on stage at the same time and somehow, this works. Despite not being chronological, it still feels natural with the musical looping the story from start to finish in a way that makes everyone and everything come full circle. With delicacy and grace, Elvis: A Musical Revolution is a carefully crafted and heartfelt tribute to the King of Rock and Roll.
Although born in Mississippi, we meet young Elvis when he’s already living in Memphis. Through his gifts and talents, we witness Elvis’ life unfold as if we’ve travelled back in time. Cohesively darting back and forth through different timelines, we witness Elvis’ evolution from a young boy with a dream into a music legend. Elvis was not without his own struggles and I dare say that his gifts were both a blessing and a curse which this musical faithfully touches on.
For Elvis fans, the stage set-up is very familiar, with all the lights framing the stage and a giant sign with the words ‘ELVIS’ in capital letters sitting in the middle of the stage, purposefully looking exactly like the large lit-up name that Elvis had for his NBC TV ‘68 Comeback Special. Despite my initial reservations, I was thoroughly impressed by how lovingly respectful Elvis: A Musical Revolution is.
I must confess, I expected a little snippet of ‘Blue Hawaii’ when the show takes you through Elvis’ Hollywood films as this movie contains my favourite Elvis Presley song and one of his best. While ‘Blue Hawaii’ is not present, the song is and is delivered in a way that sweetly and surprisingly brought me to tears.
The cast of Elvis: A Musical Revolution are exceptional. With the role of Young Elvis shared between four young talented actors consisting of Daniel Lim, Sebastian Dovey Cribbes, Luca Dahan, and Orlando Corelli-Tapia, I had the pleasure of seeing Luca Dahan work his magic. Many shows tend to have child characters as plot drivers that disappear well before the second act. So, I was pleased to see that Young Elvis is significant to the narrative all the way through. Dahan also has the most gorgeous voice and I hope to see more of him on the stage in future.
Kirby Burgess is fierce and flawless as both Marion Keisker and Elvis’ co-star Ann-Margret (she’s the assistant choreographer too). As the former, she has great chemistry with her radio work-colleague Sam Phillips played by Ben Hall. Annie Chiswell is sweet and the perfect vision of Priscilla Presley, and even the brief moments that Sienna Embrey plays Elvis’ high school sweetheart Dixie are great. However, I was wondering where she went when her character disappeared. It’s never really addressed.
Charly Williams, Joti Gore, and Jo-Anne Jackson also shine in their respective roles (although they too take on multiple roles) as Reverend, Roy Brown, and Rosetta. They could sing anything and it would be bliss. Their voices also meld together so well, that it can be best described as pure joy for the ears.
Admittedly, I have been spoiled by Tom Hanks’ portrayal of Colonel Parker in the recent Oscar award nominated film but Ian Stenlake’s portrayal of Elvis’ fiendish manager is fantastic and he makes the role his own. I also adored Matt Heyward and Noni McCallum as both Gladys and Vernon Presley respectively, particularly McCallum’s performance was very moving and her interactions with Young Elvis felt soft yet sincere. I must give a shoutout as well to Connor Morel who plays DJ Fontana and learnt the drums specifically for his role (if only I could pick up things like that so easily).
But the standout performances of the production would absolutely be Rob Mallett in the title role as Elvis Presley. I’m certain taking on such an icon would be extremely intimidating, but Mallett never appears overwhelmed nor intimidated. Instead, he gives it his all, radiating a strength and confidence that we’ve all come to love from the great man himself. The energy that Mallett also releases on stage is uncanny, to the point where I can’t understand how he can play Elvis 8 shows a week and not have his legs feel like they’re on fire. It is clear that the cast and crew of Elvis: A Musical Revolution are by far, without a doubt one of the hardest working teams in the industry right now.
Storywise, Elvis: A Musical Revolution works. It’s not a musical that will have you laughing in the aisles but Elvis’ life was not funny and understandably, the man struggled for most of it. The utmost respect, passion and research has gone into making sure that this musical is serious but still has all the great hits and moments we know. It is entertaining and accurate in the best way it can be for a stage musical production that masterfully contains no less than 40 songs from Elvis’ repertoire.
I applaud companies that strive to bring new work to the Australian stage and David Venn Enterprises has proudly produced an Elvis musical well worth seeing. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a huge Elvis fan (although it helps), have some knowledge, or don’t know a thing but just want to see a great show. Elvis is it and is in the building for a limited time. Based on the true story of the music legend, this is one musical you need to see not only to enjoy, but to help his legacy live on. There is a reason that 46 years later after Elvis’ death, we are still talking about him and are still listening to his music. He was a talent like no other and his presence is more relevant than ever.
I will never not be drawn to Elvis Presley related content and this musical has so much love for the rock legend. Long live the King.
Elvis: A Musical Revolution is currently playing at Melbourne’s Athenaeum Theatre until late December.
For more information, dates, and ticketing visit:
Photography by Grant Alexander.