Elvis is in the building.
Return to Grace, a new Canadian production that follows Elvis’s rise to glory, has some incredible talent, and many in the audience were driven into a gushing frenzy.
Following Elvis’s rise from his humble beginnings at the age of nineteen with “That’s Alright”, Return to Grace hits all the King’s highlights from his gospel period (the only songs that won him Grammy awards we are told), to his first television special in 1968, through to his televised Hawaii concert in 1973.
Throughout, the songs are powerful, with the rock and roll pouring off the stage at times electrifying. One moment the audience is clapping and stomping, and in the next, through the strains of “Daddy Please Don’t Cry”, the tears flow. Band leader Robert Martin creates a dynamic blend of instruments and vocals, and the singers and dancers are more wild and celebratory.
Steve Michaels is our King and he captures the growth and confidence of Elvis as he grew in popularity and confidence. The man has got a serious set of rich and deep pipes, with a perfect swagger and sneer. He clearly and definitively emulates Elvis, and it is evident that he adores bringing him to life.
Michaels turns up the sexy charm and Elvis’s southern boyishness and commands both the stage and audience. When he starts to give away his sweaty scarves, audience members raced up to the stage, and several in the front row got kisses and handshakes.
Music aside, Return to Grace does not delve into Elvis’s decline, and the show stays in its happy place. There are few details of his movies, his love life, and his marriage. As a result, Return to Grace is less a play, and more a concert, but it would not take much effort to expand it into a richer experience.
There are also some inconsistencies. For example, when the narrator tells us we are at the Aloha television concert, Elvis makes references to Vancouver and talks of a joke he made in Calgary that was apparently a big hit. The result is a show that is more impersonation than immersive experience. It’s a shame because the audience on opening night was so caught up in the show they would have gladly played along. When the drum beat starts pounding and his hips start shaking though, the audience was captivated and nobody wanted Elvis/Michaels to leave the building.
The real Elvis may have only played Vancouver once in 1957, but for a week this March his doppelgänger is in town. And he will knock your socks off.
Return to Grace continues at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre in Vancouver until March 27. Visit http://returntograce.ca for tickets and information.