Directed by: Karen Bruce
Musical Supervisor &Orchestrator: Matt Spencer-Smith
Reviewer: Rich Jevons
It is always a pleasure to review at the Grand Opera House in York; it boasts welcoming staff, a beautiful auditorium and an enthusiastic audience appreciating the sheer spectacle of this magical musical.
The show kicks off with an all-singing, all-dancing rendition of ‘Jailhouse Rock’ set in a US jail cell where the king rocker Chad (Ben Lewis) is spending the night having over-excited the kids with his rock’n’roll antics. Upon his release, Chad heads off on his bike to a village where the inhabitants are under the harsh regime of a mayor (Sian Reeves as the repulsive Matilda Hyde) who is hellbent on preventing singing, dancing and even necking (spoilsport!).
When the shining star that is Mica Paris (playing bar-owner Sylvia) belts out ‘Heartbreak Hotel’, it is the similarly aged Jim (great to see Shaun Williamson again) who joins in the mournful blues classic. But things are set to change with Chad’s arrival with his vibrant entrance vibing up the old jukebox (thankfully as this is a jukebox musical). He has the entire bar swinging and jiving, petticoats flailing and groins gyrating (joyful gasps!)
From here onwards you can hardly keep up with the fast-paced pick of the pops of Elvis classics, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ being used as a fashion tip for the nerdish Dennis and even Jim (young at heart). There is much successful use of frieze and spotlight, while the set and costumes are colourful and vibrant throughout.
Natalie falls for Chad at first sight, but Chad has his sights set on a pseudo-intellectual museum owner Miss Sandra. This is one of the many love triangles that develop through this Shakespearean plot with Natalie cross-dressing to woo just as the Bard has his characters frequently do in many of his comedic romances.
Miss Sandra puts Chad in his place with a sarcastic putdown of ‘Hound Dog’ but it takes more than this to persuade the rocker he is barking up the wrong tree. As well as romance, the show also tackles the racism of the period with the mayor’s son Dean defiantly hitching up with Sylvia’s daughter Lorraine for an inter-racial relationship.
Laura Tebbutt is hilarious as Natalie playing Ed so as to become Chad’s sidekick and there is a hilarious chat-up scene where Chad worries that he may be on the turn (ignorant of Natalie’s ruse). There are some massive set pieces which vitally keep up the hectic pace and leave little need for wordy dialogue.
Seeing Shaun Williamson as Jim strut his stuff is an advert for weight-watchers; slim and fit compared to his days as EastEnders’ Barry. One of the main themes is the magical power of music, used to celebrate, woo and overcome loss. The ensemble are in great voice throughout, while the romances are playfully and skilfully enacted by the leads.
Eventually even the mayor chills out in the end – and to think it’s all down to rock’n’roll! Elvis would approve of the sentiments of Love Me Tender, and even identify with the womanising rebel who at last fixes upon his true love, even if still committed to a life on the road.
Love Me Tender is an utterly endearing and enrapturing evening that reminds us how, in our hearts at least, the King is very much alive, rock on!
Runs Until: 22nd August 2015 at the Grand Opera House, then touring