Book: Joe DiPietro
Music: Inspired by the music of Elvis Presley
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Before Joe DiPietro wrote the multi-award-winning Memphis, he made his Broadway debut with the show All Shook Up, ten years on and All Shook Up has had a shake-up of its own from director and choreographer Karen Bruce and is now touring the UK as Love Me Tender.
A laudable sense of self-awareness elevates DiPietro’s show above the run of the mill, biographical, jukebox musical. Embracing as it does the madness of a show filled with cross-dressing, major misunderstandings, mistaken identity and misplaced love with utter relish is what makes it a winner.
It is as amusing as it is improbable and the humour manages to remain on the right side of charming (albeit with a huge side-order of corny): in a (literally) one-horse town (look out for the amusing sight gags, for this and throughout) a rabble-rousing roustabout arrives in town. There’s no music, no dancing and absolutely no smooching but our rebellious hero sets about using the power of music to change all that.
Aside from its clever self-mockery, another reason for the success of the whole endeavour is a top-notch cast of both theatre and TV favourites and new talent: Australian theatre star Ben Lewis (among whose many rôles is the Phantom in Love Never Dies) is an amusing and utterly likeable, if unlikely rabble-rouser Chad, and sings with gusto some of Elvis’ greatest hits, in rousing voice is soul diva Mica Paris as bar owner Sylvia, who delivers a goosebumps inducing rendition of There’s Always Me, the pair are ably supported by stage and TV favourite and National Treasure in the making, Shaun Williamson as widowed father Jim and Sian Reeves, relishing the rôle of over-zealous Mayor whose greatest delight in life is upholding the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Law. But to its credit there’s new talent too: Aretha Ayeh as Sylvia’s daughter battling racial prejudice is a knockout (there’s even an appearance from the KKK!) as are Laura Tebbutt as cross-dressing car mechanic Natalie, Kate Tydman as repressed museum curator Miss Sandra and Mark Anderson as weedy but loyal Dennis.
The music of Elvis is cleverly employed throughout, appearing as snippets, re-arrangements and full-blown production numbers, however a word of caution, if you are a dyed-in-the-wool Elvis fan expecting concert-type renditions of his greatest hits then this may not be the show for you. Yes, the characters are a set of caricatures; yes, it’s cheesy but it is hugely entertaining and, in thisgrim summer, it’s a welcome tonic for the soul.
Good clean fun with a great big heart, a fabulous cast and brilliant songs – utterly irresistible.
Runs until Saturday 8th August 2015 then touring