STAGE: Elvis and Me: The Priscilla Story – Rhumbelow Theatre, Umbilo, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
FOR the past few years, on the anniversary of the August, 1977, death of Elvis Presley, Durban-based El tribute artist Doug Weich has hauled out his sequinned jumpsuits and fake sideburns for a tribute show at the Rhumbelow Theatre.
Johannesburg-born Weich, hooked on Elvis since he was 8, sometimes performs alone but, in more recent times, has sung with a band and backing singers who also step out for a solo spotlight. It’s an infinitely better format as it lends more variety, scale and oomph to the entertainment.
This year’s production, Weich’s sixth at this venue, is centred on the story of how Presley and wife Priscilla met when he was stationed with the US Army in Germany.
Making use of video material shown on two raised screens flanking the Rhumbelow’s small stage, the show traces the relationship until the rock ’n’ roll legend’s divorce and death.
Weich, in a changing parade of cheesey but iconic Presley outfits, and with a penchant for Presley’s trademark lunge and arm-swinging – moves I can’t help chuckling at, as I found them corny and highly amusing even when Elvis did them – links the loose narrative with hit tunes, some of them chosen as a commentary of sorts on the video footage.
Weich could crank up the audience rapport (he oftens avoids eye contact), has an unfortunate habit of twitching his face and wincing, and sometimes comes across as a little shy when he speaks. However, he has a good voice, well suited to the Presley classics, and is popular with the audience, fans often requesting selfies with him after the show.
Here he is joined by a tight and versatile team including Andy Turrell on drums, Dave Knott on lead guitar, Wade Wight on keyboards, Evan Cullum on piano and musical direction, Glen Turrell on bass and the lovely, scene-stealing Kirsty Madgin (of Barnyard theatre fame) on sax.
Also in the spotlight are backing vocalists Claire Rowlett, a bubbly blonde who has been a little quiet on the music scene since her Barnyard Theatre days, and attractive newcomer Sandi Da Cunha, who has a good voice and much potential if she brushes up on her self-confidence.
The song choice is good, lighting is fun and colourful, the pace is brisk and much fun was had by most on Saturday night, when I attended.
Opening with a video montage before Weich performs Whole Lot of Loving, the show goes on to include biggies such as That’s All Right Mama, GI Blues (with Weich in US Army uniform), Welcome to My World and Love Me Tender.
The first half also sees Rowlett singing Can’t Help Falling in Love, pianist Cullum singing the jaunty Mystery Train and Da Cunha performing Fever, before Weich gives a crowd-pleasing delivery of Blue Suede, Hound Dog and Jailhouse Rock.
The first half closes with a roar of approval for Madgin in a sax solo spot, with a mesh of Tutti Fruitti and Shake Rattle and Roll.
The second half opens with Weich in flashy Las Vegas mode, the hits performed including CC Rider, Heartbreak Hotel, It’s Now or Never, Polk Salad Annie and Johnny Be Good.
Highlights are Always On My Mind and Teddy Bear (during which Weich throws a few small, fluffy bears into the audience), Rowlett’s You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and Da Cunha’s Unchained Melody.
Before the finale – a rendition of the rousing American Trilogy, performed alongside footage of the Elvis funeral – we get Suspicious Minds and The Wonder of You, and the show closes with Weich in a red jumpsuit for Burning Love, performed as an encore. It’s fun.
The show has final performances at the Umbilo venue, in Cunningham Road, off Bartle Road, at 8pm on Friday and Saturday (August 18 and 19) and 2pm and 6.30pm on Sunday (August 20).
There will also be 2pm and 6.30pm performances on Sunday, September 10, at the Rhumbelow Theatre branch at the Allan Wilson shellhole in Pietermaritzburg.
Tickets cost R150 each and booking is at Computicket or by phoning Roland at 082 499 8636.