More than two dozen of the King’s best loved songs, one of Brit Soul’s finest voices and Barry Evans from EastEnders, these are just some of the ingredients of Love Me Tender, a brand new jukebox musical from the production team behind Hairspray, Legally Blonde, Jersey Boys and West Side Story.
Set in an anonymous small town in 1950s America it tells the tale of boy meets girl...well, tough nut female mechanic in this case, who soon pretends to be a man in a slightly bizarre attempt to woo him (devotees of Shakespeare may detect just the merest hint of Twelfth Night - arguably one of the first ever gender bender comedies - about it all). That’s not the only budding relationship though, pretty much all of the main characters fall for each other along the way creating more love triangles than a geometry teachers’ convention.
Given Elvis’ movie career it’s perhaps appropriate that Love Me Tender has its tongue firmly in its cheek...just behind its curled lip...throughout the show but it’s all affectionately done and the producers miss few tricks when it comes to shoehorning in songs (or just the odd line even) to match particular plot developments. Strip away the plot though and you’ve still got some of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest hits and there are some particularly fine solo vocal performances from Mica Paris (as streetwise bar owner Sylvia), Laura Tebbit (as grease monkey Natalie) and Mark Anderson (as the geeky Dennis). Listen up for Aretha Ayeh (as Lorraine) and Mica’s That’s All Right in the first half of the show though. It takes some voice to hold your own when Paris is in full flow but Aretha’s every bit as powerful and soulful. Kudos to Shaun Williamson too, he may have made a career out of gently taking the piss out of himself (notably on Extras) but the dude can belt out a song with the best of ‘em and he provided some of the biggest laughs of the night. Good ‘Evans!’
Ben Lewis is delightfully cheesy as Chad too, channelling his inner Fonz, albeit with an eye for the dicks as well as the chicks. Ahem.
In amongst all the goofing around the musical addresses some serious issues. Perhaps the racial elements are a little uncomfortable, especially the dancing KKK troupe (okay it’s clearly mocking the whole thing and it’s got a great visual payoff but even so...), then again maybe whitewashing the racial tension endemic in 50s America (hell, things don’t seem much better in some states even now) might have been just as offensive?
Cleverly staged, especially the opening Jailhouse Rock scene (I imagine that took some serious rehearsal) and the repeated use of the cast as bits of the scenery or props, the choreography was also suitably hip thrusting and lively throughout blending some classic Presley moves with a more modern twist.
You can guess how it all ends and, predictable as it is, it’s still heart warming stuff making this a musical you...wait for it...simply Can’t Help Falling In Love with.
Love Me Tender is on at The New Alexandra Theatre until Saturday August 29th. Tickets right here.