Discovering Elvis

By Marcia Kash
Performed by Terry Barna, Phi Bulani, Cyndi Carleton, Jenny Hall, Dylan Juckes, Daphne Moens
Directed & Choreographed by Robert More
Musical Direction by Peter De Sousa
Victoria Playhouse Petrolia
July 1 to July 19, 2008
Reviewed by Mary Alderson

Elvis is Alive and Well in Petrolia

All those people who think they’ve seen Elvis may not be crazy after all; perhaps they’ve seen an Elvis impersonator. In Discovering Elvis, the current production on stage at Victoria Playhouse in Petrolia, we see just how devoted Elvis impersonators really are. Not only does this show give some insight into the strange world of Elvis followers, but it also concludes with a lively concert of Elvis favourites.

A local flavour has been given to this production. All the action takes place in the Upper Club at the Squire Tavern in Petrolia. Many other southwestern Ontario place names are also mentioned, much to the audience’s delight. It’s a cold winter’s day in Petrolia and the local tavern is holding a karaoke-style Elvis contest. The stakes are high; the winner gets to perform in Las Vegas.

At first, our narrator’s acting seems a little over the top. We learn that she is Darlene, a huge Elvis fan – and when it comes to one particular Elvis impersonator, she’s a fanatic and maybe even a stalker. So yes, she’s a little bit crazy, and Jenny Hall plays her to the extreme.

We meet the four people taking part in the contest: Jay, the young Elvis, (Dylan Juckes): Rick, the black leather Elvis (Phi Bulani); Marty, the older white-satin-jumpsuit Elvis (Terry Barna) and then Cathy, the surprise female Elvis (Daphne Moens). The four contestants are being looked after by Sue (Cyndi Carleton), the back-stage assistant, as they get ready for the show.

You’ll recognize Carleton from her performance last year as Sister Amnesia in Nunsensations! when she was delightfully ditzy. You may not recognize Barna – he was the divorcee with all the new neighbours in Here on the Flight Path last season. This year his appearance is dramatically altered with two different hairstyles.

The first act progresses with the Darlene, the crazy fanatic, going overboard in her attempts to find the spirit of the real Elvis. The real Elvis has “spoken” to her and she believes that she will find him trapped inside an impersonator.

The show is well cast, and the performances in the first act are very good. Some of the lines garner laughs. But the wordiness of the script lets the act drag on just a bit too long. The point of the first act is made early on, we get it and we just want the story to progress. Perhaps in the course of the play’s run, act one will be tightened.

Thankfully, the entertainment really improves in the second act, when we actually attend the Elvis impersonators’ competition. Now we learn that not only can this cast act, they can sing as well. We hear many Elvis favourites from all stages of his life: Hound Dog, Jail House Rock, Viva Las Vegas, Love Me Tender, All Shook Up, Blue Suede Shoes, and many, many more, right through to the Battle Hymn of the Republic.

The only thing missing is a live band, but it was a karaoke contest, so it’s pre-recorded music.

Each character has a slightly different voice and a little different take on Elvis’ mannerisms, showing how versatile the real Elvis really was… there was a reason why he was the King! In Discovering Elvis, the four competitors, plus the fan and the assistant use their amazing voices to lift the show to an outstanding finale. The six singers blend well on stage, quite literally ending on a high note, and sending the audience home singing.

You don’t have to be an Elvis fan to enjoy this performance. These are superior entertainers– anyone who appreciates rock and roll will like this show.

Discovering Elvis continues with eight shows a week at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia until July 19. Call the box office at 1-800-717-7694 or (519) 882-1221 for tickets.

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