Using the back catalogue of Elvis as the template for a musical is a great idea. Songs like Jailhouse Rock, Hound Dog, Heartbreak Hotel and Burning Love are big, showy songs that are naturals for the stage.
But Love Me Tender, which opened at Milton Keynes Theatre tonight, is likely only to attract diehard fans.
What would The King have made of seeing his raw, energising, rock ‘n’ roll classics turned into cheesy jukebox standards?
It would be easy to dismiss LMT as a rip off of Footloose but it’s more chicken-and-egg. Elvis was the original bad boy whose body, below those sexy, quivering hips, was banned from TV.
His music was outlawed from most of America’s Bible Belt for sounding too black and too suggestive. Fathers locked up their daughters rather than allow them to any of his concerts.
So LMT’s story begins to make more sense. What didn’t make sense was wasting the talent.
We’re in a hick one-horse town in the Mid-West where the mayor has banned everyone from kissing, making out, and generally having a good time.
In rides the original bad boy, Chad (Ben Lewis), or rather he limps in, his motor cycle having developed engine problems.
Within a day the townsfolk are all shook up over this renegade who’s armed with a pair of blue suede shoes, a guitar, and an ability to fix jukeboxes with a magic touch.
Sandwiched between some great rock ‘n’ roll, mainly reduced to generic musical show-tunes, is a lightweight story of love with mis-matched partners hoping, having, finding and losing it.
The big star names in the show are EastEnders and stage favourite Shaun Williamson and singer Mica Paris. Both are woefully underused.
Shaun’s US accent may wobble but his comic timing and ability to wring the pathos from a part, is impeccable.
He delivers a King-sized turn as an out-of-practice middle-aged widower out to impress a lady by sporting brothel creepers, DA and leather jacket, and wooing her with a song.
Paris, she of the HUGE voice, is hidden away as saloon bar owner and single mum, Sylvia, and only gets two solos – one of which is in the encore.
She sings the difficult, and hugely emotional 1961 Elvis hit, There’s Always Me and pretty much stops the show before wowing everyone with Fools Fall In Love.
The lady is a great singer and a superb actor but really needs a stronger part to showcase her considerable talents.
This first rate company prove themselves stand-out singers and dancers but are let down by a weak story that doesn’t really know what it wants to be.
It’s not tongue-in-cheek enough to be a comedy and not anarchic enough to really do justice to iconic songs which changed music forever.
The race card is casually thrown in and there’s a moment of satire when four klu klux klan dancers join in a medley that has snatches of Elvis’s wonderful American Trilogy, but segregation sits uneasily with the general lightness of the storyline.
There are also occasional moments of homo-erotica but, generally, we have a predictable outcome to a rather tame musical from Joe DiPietro.
Laura Tebbutt, as grease-monkey Natalie, Mark Anderson as aspiring nerdish dentist, Dennis, and Kate Tydman as the bookish Miss Sandra, give powerful performances that are both poignant and pugnacious.
Tydman plays a sexually repressed intellectual who lowers her inhibitions to hilarious effect when she falls in love with the wrong person.
While Mr Anderson has everyone’s sympathy playing the perennial loser in love who has an ace up his sleeve.
Strictly for the fans.
Love Me Tender plays at Milton Keynes Theatre until Saturday before continuing its UK tour.
Love Me Tender
Singer Mica Paris and EastEnders’ star Shaun Williamson get all shook up in the jukebox musical Love Me Tender which features some of the great rock’n’roll hits of Elvis Presley.