Stage: Viva Las Vegas – Rhumbelow Theatre, Cunningham Road, Umbilo, Durban
REVIEW BY BILLY SUTER
CHALKING up his seventh annual Elvis Presley tribute show at this newly renovated theatre, Johannesburg-born but longtime-Durban-based Doug Weich again keeps the customers satisfied with an outpouring of classic golden oldies associated with the lip-curling hip-swiveller.
It all started for Weich when he was about 11. Elvis was his idol and he wanted to be just like him, so entered a talent competition in Johannesburg. His sister made a white sequinned suit for him and because he didn’t sing then, Weich mimed to Elvis songs.
The dream had started. Now, every year, on the anniversary of the August, 1977, death of Presley, Weich, who has developed a very pleasing singing voice that is more tribute than down-pat Elvis impersonation, stages a tribute show. In more recent years he has greatly embellished on these productions with the addition of a band and guest vocalists.
This year, as the show title states, the production focuses on Presley’s Vegas years, when the superstar had grown in girth and stature, wore embarrassing rhinestoned jumpsuits and capes and sported massive sideburns. His leg shaking and hip swivelling had mostly given way by then to moves involving arm swinging and machine-gun-firing mimimickry.
Personally I hated Elvis’s Vegas years, but millions would beg to differ – and it has to be said that Weich and his team do a good job with their tribute. Certainly Viva Las Vegas kept an eager audience very happy at last night’s opening.
Weich is backed by a fine five-piece band featuring talented Evan Cullum on musical direction and piano, Wade Wight on keyboards, ever-smiling David Knott on lead guitar, Glen Turrell on bass and Alec Mackay on drums.
Weich has also brought back the attractive backing vocalists he used in last year’s show, Claire Rowlett and Sandi da Cunha. Each also takes solo spotlights during Weich’s many costume changes, when they pay tribute to other acts that played Vegas at around the same time Presley was there.
Confident Claire dons fright wig for Tina Turner’s River Deep, Mountain High and a blonde wig for Dolly Parton’s I Will Always Love You and Nine to Five, while a radiant Sandi, more relaxed than she was in last year’s show, offers great renditions of Cher’s Walking in Memphis and Diana Ross’s Chain Reaction.
Three band members also take solo vocal spots – Evan with well-received deliveries of Elton John’s Your Song and Frank Sinatra’s New York, New York; deep-voiced Glen with the opening of Proud Mary; and Wade with the opening section of It’s Now or Never (with the Italian variation, O Sole Mio).
This is Weich’s show, though, and he does well – notwithstanding some very awkward patter. He would so greatly benefit from offering some brief facts between songs instead of dull linking dialogue that seldom goes further than countless “thank yous”, some “Lordly, Lordy, Lordys” and w-a-y too many “ladies and gentlemen”.
The show also makes use of video footage and photos shown on two raised screens flanking the Rhumbelow’s small stage, but the voiceover is extremely amateurish and Weich would do well to get a pro voiceover artist to replace it.
In a changing parade of cheesey but iconic and well-executed Presley outfits (made by Weich’s wife, who comes out for final bows in a flurry of feathers), the audience is treated to many of the big Presley hits.
The production opens with a too-long video of ZZ Top performing Viva Las Vegas then goes into Weich and the band performing Blue Suede Shoes, Fever and Mean Women Blues/Whole Lot of Shaking. Also in the first half are Teddy Bear/Don’t Be Cruel, an amusing and slowed-down Heartbreak Hotel, Jailhouse Rock, I Just Can’t Help Believing, You Don’t Have to Say You Love Me and Houng Dog. We also get a new item from Weich, a delivery of Let Me Be There, a very big hit for Olivia Newton John.
The show’s second half features CC Rider, The Wonder of You, It’s Now or Never, Proud Mary, American Trilogy and Johnny B Goode. Also featured are Burning Love, Suspicious Minds, Can’t Help Falling in Love and an encore of Viva la Vegas.
The song choice is good, lighting by Sarah Claxton is imaginative and colourful, the pace is brisk and it’s good to note that the Rhumbelow Theatre team has added an extra half-metre or so at the back of the stage due to some technical manoeuvrings.
Viva Las Vegas has final performances at the Umbilo venue at 8pm today (Saturday (August 4) and 2pm on Sunday (August 5).There will also be performances next Friday, Saturday and Sunday, August 10. 11 and 12.
Tickets cost R150 each (R130 for pensioners) and booking is at Computicket or by phoning Roland at 082 499 8636.