Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Elvis–A Musical Revolution
Elvis–A Musical Revolution moves forward and backward in time to tell the story of Elvis Presley's early childhood, his dizzying ascent to stardom, and some of the troubles he faced as musical tastes began to shift in the 1960s. Joey Caroto (who rotates in the role of Kid Elvis with Hunter Silverman) conveys a contagious optimism and excitement, making Presley's early love of R&B a joy to behold. Rebecca Robbins plays Presley's wonderfully supportive if nominally alcoholic mother with a radiant tenderness. It's impossible not to feel moved when Presley's parents scrimp and save to buy his first guitar. Presley's rise to fame, military service, and his mother's death effectively frame a first act bursting with iconic songs and high-energy choreography. Pastrana is electrifying, bringing the true spirit of The King to every number.
The second act feels somewhat unmoored by comparison. Although the play touches on Elvis's struggles with his young wife Priscilla (Jenna Pastrana is heartbreakingly vulnerable), loss of popularity, and being exploited by Hollywood, there is no meaningful conflict. He struggles from time to time, but Elvis is always the good guy and he is always going to come out on top. This results in a few slow moments in the second act, but what that act lacks in plot it makes up for in a bevy of big musical numbers. The medley of hits at the end is especially rousing.
Jeff Calhoun directs and choreographs this exhilarating production. Calhoun's dynamic choreography is excellent and the entire production has a fun, wholesome feel that anyone can enjoy. Ed Chapman's sound design is top notch, delivering every note and shout with power and clarity. Mary Folino's costume designs convey the spirit of the times and the energy of Elvis Presley, without every feeling overly costumey. Although it has many fun and interesting elements, Roman Tatarowicz's set design is a bit disappointing because it never seems to fill the entire stage. The black empty space is uncomfortable and out of line with the show's otherwise upbeat energy.
Whether you are a life-long fan or a young person hearing these songs for the first time, Elvis–A Musical Revolution will have you dancing in your seat. It's not a complete and accurate biography by any stretch of the imagination, but the show really does convey the excitement and glee of The King at the height of his popularity.
Elvis–A Musical Revolution runs through November 5, 2023, at Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia PA. For tickets 215-574-3550 ext. 6, or visit walnutstreettheatre.org.
Production and Design Team