Thursday, June 15, 2017

27 (2017-2018): Review: ATTACK OF THE ELVIS IMPERSONATORS (seen June 9, 2017)

“He’s Left the Building”

Every season seems to bring two or three deliberately cheesy, campy, silly, even nonsensical, Off-Broadway novelty musicals spoofing popular culture, politics, religion, and the like. Some, like The Rocky Horror Show and Nunsense, go on to have spectacular successes worldwide in other small venues or even become TV and movie productions. Like the recent Disaster: the Musical, they may also transfer to Broadway.

Eric Sciotto. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
It’s unlikely that such a future awaits the amusingly titled Attack of the Elvis Impersonators, a goofy all-singing, all-dancing, all-mugging exercise in musical banality now burning actors’ calories on Theatre Row. Which isn’t to deny that enough Elvis idolaters seeking anything associated with the eponymous late entertainer may find its subject matter rollicking enough to keep it rocking for the nonce.
Warren Kelley, Badia Farha, Emily Jeanne Phillips, Eric Sciotto, Jayme Wappel, Catherine Walker, Whit K. Lee. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
Elvis Presley, who died forty years ago, continues to be a gigantic presence in the American pop music pantheon. His Graceland estate in Memphis, TN, remains a bees-to-honey mecca for worldwide fans, young and old. The Elvis industry chugs along, especially in Las Vegas, and Elvis impersonators can often be spotted in Times Square. This nutty paean to the god of sideburns and glitz is betting some EIs will show up, like the chubby guy in gold satin, sunglasses, and dyed black hair (or was it a wig?) the night I attended.
Eric Sciotto, Laura Woyasz. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
[Full disclosure: I was an early Elvis impersonator; in 1957, when Elvis was a pelvis-swinging, teen idol phenomenon, I played him in a Brooklyn high school revue (the kind known as “Sing”), wailing “Hound Dog” (or was it “Blue Suede Shoes”?).] 

Lory Lazarus (Courage, the Cowardly Dog), who wrote the book, music, and lyrics for Attack of the Elvis Impersonators, says in his program notes that many Elvis fans worship “the King” like a deity, hoping to be healed by his spirit. This cult fervor is among the inspirations that drove him to create the show, barely any of which can be taken seriously.
Eric Sciotto and company. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
It strains to be funny with sight gags and comical verses but its biggest laughs actually have little to do with Elvis, coming late in the evening when it joins the anti-Trump bandwagon with the president likened in a projected image to the Anti-Christ; that villain then gets the show's biggest howl when he employs a certain tweeted expression that’s probably in the running for 2017’s Oxford Dictionary word of the year.
Eric Sciotto. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
Eric Sciotto, a slender performer with good cheekbones and an enviable Elvis-like pompadour, plays the lead in this peculiar tale of Drac Frenzie, a swaggering, boozing, enormously wealthy, heavy metal rock star, styled to resemble Guns N’ Roses’ top-hatted Slash.
Eric Sciotto, Laura Woyasz, and company. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
Drac, the richest man on earth, burned out from playing heavy metal, decides to give it up and join the ranks of Elvis impersonators, having had a mystical relationship to the King through a locket returned to him by Matt Shadow (Curtis Wiley), his African-American friend. A quick change, hidden by feathered fans held by his sexy, pink-wigged backup singers, and voila!, Drac's rocker's duds and crinkly, shoulder-length locks vanish and the Elvis we know and love appears.

What follows is equally outlandish, involving the surging attempt of the Anti-Christ (Jim Borstelmann) to take over the world; the winning by Drac/Elvis of every eligible Grammy; his love affair with and eventual marriage to Prissy (read Priscilla) Bordeaux (Laura Woyasz); a Miller Park, Milwaukee, concert replete with a cheesehead chorus; an Elvis impersonator epidemic with everyone wearing Elvis masks; and a visit to Graceland where Elvis is worshiped in the satirically pious “You Are the King of Kings.” Okay, time to take a breath.

Then we have Drac’s transformation into a reincarnation of the real Elvis; the creation of the Hound Dog religion (celebrated in the bounciest tune, “Spread the Word of Hound Dog”); an international war with the Anti-Christ; Elvis’s denunciation by a band of religious fundamentalists in thrall to the Anti-Christ who sing about “The Evils of Elvis”; and on and on.
Jim Borstelmann. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
Finally, Elvis, using all his superpowers (replete with “Batman” images of “Pow,” “Ka-Pow,” “Boom,” etc. [R.I.P. Adam West]) overcomes the king of Satania a.k.a. the Anti-Christ, who’s a pussycat, after all. World peace is achieved, with planet Earth being renamed Graceland. ‘Nuff said?

Attack of the Elvis Impersonators, directed for maximum energy consumption by Don Stephenson, and breathlessly choreographed by Melissa Zaremba, squeezes as much out of the intimate Lion Theatre as it can, with actors rushing up and down the aisles and with an attractive unit set by Paul Tate DePoo III that allows for a constant barrage of Shawn Duan’s vivid, scene-setting, comical still and video projections.
Eric Sciotto and company. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
The 14-member ensemble, most playing multiple roles, are kept on the run with frequent costume and wig changes; kudos to costumer Tracey Christensen for giving the show so much visual pizazz, including those classic Elvis costumes. 

Ensemble member Borstelmann, who plays everything from the governor of Tennessee’s (Warren Kelley)’s nerdy, Elvis-addicted kid to the Trumpian Anti-Christ, stands out for his devilish comic chops. The charismatic Sciotto deserves applause for holding the crazy show together; he has the right Elvis move and sings decently enough but, let's be honest, he's more an actor impersonating Elvis impersonators than a top notch impersonator himself. Woyasz's Prissy is cute as Elvis's cardboard sweetheart.
Laura Woyasz, Eric Sciotto. Photo: Jeremy Daniel.
Audiences ready to give an overlong show like this (two hours) wide latitude for its broad satire and self-aware absurdity may not feel so lenient toward Lazarus’s music. Most of it ranges from the passable to the forgettable, with Elvis’s numbers among the weakest. In part it’s because they’re mediocre pastiches of now classic numbers, none of which the show includes. 

If the ocean had no fish would it still be the ocean? If Trump didn’t have his hair and money would he still be Trump? And if Elvis—even an imitation Elvis—didn’t have his music would he still be Elvis? Or, for that matter, an Elvis impersonator?

Without his music, Elvis isn’t even in the building.


Lion Theatre/Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through September 24