Blue Suede Shoes – Memories of the King

Written on September 3rd, 2011

Blue Suede Shoes – Memories of the King

BSS Elvis 2

Created by Chris McHarge & Colin Stewart
Directed by Chris McHarge
Musical direction by Colin Stewart
Performed by Roy LeBlanc and Chris McHarge
Playhouse II, Grand Bend
August 17 to September 3, 2011
St. Jacobs Schoolhouse Theatre
September 7 to December 18, 2011
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

If I Can Dream

Elvis is still in the building, and he has the sell-out crowds to prove it. Blue Suede Shoes – Memories of the King brought summer to a climax in Grand Bend, proving to be the most popular show at Playhouse II this season. If you weren’t able to get a ticket, you’ll still be able to catch it The Schoolhouse Theatre in St. Jacobs.

The show is basically Elvis in concert, with the story of his life narrated by his manager, Colonel Tom Parker.

Roy LeBlanc, from St. Thomas, is well known in the competitive world of Elvis impersonators. He first won the Collingwood Elvis festival in 1999, and now he returns as the master of ceremonies. He has also won the title “The World’s Finest Elvis Impersonator” in Las Vegas. LeBlanc has the looks, the moves and mannerisms and the voice of Elvis — few impersonators can excel at all aspects. LeBlanc’s voice is perfect Elvis, particularly in the low range. He has the sideburns and the smile, even the curled lip.

Chris McHarge is the creator and director, and plays the role of Colonel Tom Parker, who narrates the story. This is another show in McHarge’s collection – such as “Summer of Love”, or “Johnny & June”. McHarge is the former artistic director at Lighthouse Theatre in Port Dover where his musical stories have proven popular. He gives a reasonable interpretation of Parker, complete with hat and cigar. But as narrator of the story, McHarge only offers a superficial glimpse of Elvis and the Colonel. None of the Colonel’s shady past is presented, nor do hear anything of Priscilla and Lisa Marie, for example.

All the Elvis favourites are included: there are 23 songs in Act I and 19 in Act II. Among the audience favourites are Heartbreak Hotel, Love Me Tender, Jailhouse Rock, Teddy Bear, Can’t Help Falling in Love with You, and a long line-up of hits from the various Elvis movies. Colonel Tom tells us they turned down the lead role in the movie West Side Story, as it was going to take months to shoot. He could put out three of his typical Elvis movies in the same time frame.

In Act II, Elvis records a gospel album, against Colonel Tom’s advice, but it’s a huge success. The audience loves Leblanc’s Peace in the Valley, and How Great Thou Art. Then we are taken to Elvis’ 1968 comeback television special, for hits like Hound Dog, All Shook Up, and Are You Lonesome Tonight? My personal favourite is If I Can Dream. We learn from Colonel Tom that Elvis commissioned the writing of this song to honour Robert Kennedy after his assassination.

The show wraps up with audience pleasers: Burning Love, In the Ghetto, Suspicious Minds, My Way and of course, the Blue Suede Shoes encore; bringing the house to its feet.

Overall, the show lacks some of the polish that we are used to with Drayton Entertainment productions. Keep in mind that this is an Elvis concert, not a musical theatre piece. If you are accustomed to musical theatre singers who clearly articulate every word, it’s a bit jarring at first when you can’t make out the lyrics. In some instances I was left wondering if LeBlanc had forgotten the lyrics or if he was slurring the words in an effort to be more Elvis-like. Obviously, there is no choreography, just Elvis moves, which seem very repetitive if you are used to seeing carefully planned dance numbers.

The band is located at centre stage, with Colonel Tom’s office on the right, and a screen showing real Elvis photos, movie posters, and video clips on the left. Unfortunately, the pictures on the screen are sometimes obliterated by the lighting on the stage.

Blue Suede Shoes has the name recognition to draw a new audience to the theatre. It sold out quickly, and the audience loves it. For Elvis fans, it’s a wonderful reincarnation and we can dream.

Blue Suede Shoes continues with eight shows a week until September 3 at Playhouse II Grand Bend, and then moves to St. Jacobs Schoolhouse until December 18. Tickets are available at Drayton Entertainment at 1-888-449-4463, or check .

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