Freelance journalist with a passion for theatre, the arts, food and books.
Get All Shook Up With Fun Romantic Musical
Elvis is alive! ...well his music is through this madcap, romantic musical Love Me Tender.
Love Me Tender is a fun musical using the songs of Elvis Presley
The vibrant, impressive musical is new to the UK but originally premiered in Broadway in 2005 under the title All Shook Up. Adapted for a British tour, it stars the hugely talented 1990s soul singer Mica Paris, whose powerful voice makes her the shining light of the show. She adds soul to Elvis' hits, particularly There's Always Me and I Can't Help Falling In Love With You.
It's not just Paris that makes Love Me Tender a hit. The ensemble is made up of various young talents with big voices plus Shaun Williamson (Barry in EastEnders) to add a comedy element to the proceedings.
Shaun Williamson and Mica Paris add a touch of class to Love Me Tender
I caught the show at New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham, where it stays for a week until August 29 as part of its UK and Ireland tour, which continues to Bromley, Woking, Cardiff and Dublin.
Set in a small town in 1950s America, guitar-playing "roustabout" Chad (looking very similar to a young Elvis) rides his motorbike into town and sets off a chain of romantic entanglements and dilemmas among the townsfolk.
Among them are Natalie, the love-struck tomboy mechanic, whose cross-dressing antics to get closer to Chad cause chaos, and single parents Sylvia (Mica Paris) and Jim (Shaun Williamson).
Borrowing a storyline from Footloose, the townspeople have been subdued by the strict, bigoted female mayor's ban on necking and dancing, which Chad quickly overthrows to awaken everyone's passions.
Accompanying the town's transformation are 25 Elvis songs, neatly slotted into the storyline from The Devil in Disguise to Hound Dog, Blue Suede Shoes, Heartbreak Hotel and many more.
All shook up by the music of Elvis Presley
It's refreshing that Chad (played by Ben Lewis) isn't just doing an Elvis impression and the comedy script is much more tongue-in-cheek than that, portraying him as an empty-headed hunk who is almost a sex pest to one of the town's women.
The racist mayor plot also adds some edge as she battles to break up an inter-racial romance between her son and Sylvia's daughter Lorraine (an impressive Aretha Ayeh whose voice gives Mica Paris a run for her money).
It leads to one of the musical numbers taking the mickey out of the mayor and featuring jokes even aimed at the Klu Klux Klan; but this is a happy-go-lucky show and you know that by the end, everything will be coming up roses.
Aretha Ayeh as Lorraine impresses with her powerful voice.
While the storyline is eccentric and outrageously romantic, it's a fun piece of escapism that has more class than many of the two-bit theatre productions based around the music of a pop act. That's probably because there is a strong creative team behind it.
Love Me Tender is not only made by the same producers of Hairspray, Jersey Boys and West Side Story, it is also written by Tony Award Winner Joe DiPietro, who is also behind Memphis.
Laura Tebbutt and Ben Lewis have impressive voices in Love Me Tender
Olivier Award winner Karen Bruce has directed and choreographed the show and the playful, cleverly designed set is thanks to Morgan Large.
The combination of all of these creative elements plus a talented cast mean that Love Me Tender is more than just frivolity and fun. It's also got a wonderful soundtrack of timeless Elvis songs that will leave you all shook up.
Love Me Tender UK Tour
New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham
Until August 29 2015