BWW Reviews: Society for the Performing Arts Rocks Houston with ELVIS LIVES

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BWW Reviews: Society for the Performing Arts Rocks Houston with ELVIS LIVES
Dean Z as Elvis. Photo courtesy of Dean Z.

The National Tour of ELVIS LIVES is touted as an "unforgettable multi-media and live musical journey across Elvis' life," and it delivers. The two act show is made of four sets, or acts, that feature Elvis at key points in his career. Featuring finalists from Elvis Presley Enterprises' worldwide Ultimate Tribute Artist Contest, this high energy and exciting concert experience gives audiences, young and old, a retrospective of Elvis' career and allows us to experience not just one but four Elvis concerts in one night.

To some extent ELVIS LIVES is a theatrical experience. The three actors portraying Elvis at various stages of his life are acting and emulating the King of Rock n' Roll, but to call the show a theatrical event is somewhat of a disservice. There is no book, like audiences are used to. Therefore, while in the same vein as a show like MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET or JERSEY BOYS, ELVIS LIVES is an altogether different experience. Audiences do get glimpses into Elvis' life story as footage from his performances and film appearances (be they TV or movie) are displayed on the large screen in-between sets and during costume changes. However, the whole purpose of ELVIS LIVES is to allow audiences to feel transported to Elvis concerts, and the show delivers that experience with indefatigable gusto.

Dean Z, the 2013 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist, plays 1950's Elvis and kicks off the show with The King of Rock n' Roll set. His exuberant energy and dashing young looks instantly appealed to the women in the crowd at Friday night's performance. In no time, the whole crowd was cheering like teenagers at the Ed Sullivan Show. Moreover, Dean Z croons his songs like "Shake, Rattle & Roll," "Blue Suede Shoes," and "Teddy Bear" with laudable precision and personality. As a performer, he channels young Elvis and even adds just a hint of his own flair into the performance as he skillfully works the crowd.

Next up is Leo Days as Movie Elvis in the Elvis Goes Hollywood set. This sets closes the first act and was rather lackluster on Friday evening. Leo Days simply didn't seem into the performance and appeared to be marking his way through such legendary Elvis moments as "Rock-A-Hula Baby," "Blue Hawaii," "Viva Las Vegas," "Can't Help Falling in Love" and others. Conversely, opening the second act as '68 Comeback Elvis in the Come Back to '68 set, Leo Days was spirited and revved the crowd up with boundless charm and sex appeal. Instantly, it was abundantly clear that he simply has more fun with this set than the movie one. Leo Days effortlessly rockEd Jones Hall and brought the house down with mesmerizing performances of "Heartbreak Hotel," "Jail House Rock," "Are You Lonesome Tonight," and more.

2009 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Bill Cherry closes the show with Concert Years Elvis during the Real Men Wear Jumpsuits set. With huge sideburns and rocking the famed jumpsuit from the Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite concert, Bill Cherry won the audience over with tuneful renditions of "Burning Love," "Suspicious Minds," "Down in the Valley," and "In the Ghetto." Likewise, he also engaged the crowd and had a lot of fun interacting with the large audience, ensuring that every member of the audience was treated to an unforgettable evening of nostalgic Elvis fun.

BWW Reviews: Society for the Performing Arts Rocks Houston with ELVIS LIVES
Dean Z as Elvis. Photo courtesy of Dean Z.

While the major draw to the show are the accomplished Elvis Tribute Artists, Ensemble members Justin Clark, Elisha Marie Jones, Stephanie Richardson, and Bucky Heard provide great back-up vocals for the different sets and dance with enthusiasm. Additionally, Lawrence Feldner on keyboards, Kris Brown on guitar, Eli Hludzik on drums, and bandleader Brahm Sheray on bass also put on quite a show. In fact, I found myself drawn to Brahm Sheray's amusing antics with the upright bass more than once during the production.

ELVIS LIVES, presented by Society for the Performing Arts (SPA), was definitely a lively and memorable night of quality performances. While many may have missed ELVIS LIVES in Houston, audiences in Houston cast rest assured that SPA is ready to deliver more unforgettable theatrical experiences in 2014. Next up is the raucous and hilarious parody stylings of New York City's favorite Off-Broadway laugh fest Forbidden Broadway, playing the Cullen Theater at the Wortham Center on Saturday, January 25 at 8:00 p.m. For tickets and more information, please visit http://www.spahouston.org or call (713) 227-4772.

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