Why does Elvis Presley captivate us as strongly today as he did the first time he strutted his stuff on Ed Sullivan's stage? Is it his music? Was it the life he lived behind the gates of Graceland that ended so tragically? Many insist Elvis is still alive, swearing they've seen him in every corner of the world.
Those sightings aren't surprising: It is estimated that that there are more than 48,000 men and women impersonating Elvis Presley worldwide.
Circa '21's production of Marsha Kash's Discovering Elvis - a U.S. premiere - tells the story of four Elvis impersonators preparing for a contest at the Upper Club. Not a raging blizzard, a missing judge, or a crazed fan convinced that Elvis has told her to find his spirit can stop them from donning the costumes that will transform them into the man they admire.
Jay is just beginning his career as an Elvis impersonator. His dream is to perform in Vegas, and the Upper Club contest is the first step.
Mark Raumaker gives Jay the sweet and shy characteristics of the young Elvis who captured the hearts of millions of teenaged girls, and he has the voice and the moves. Oh, does he have the moves. If his performance had televised all those years ago, he would have been shot from the waist up.
Rick is the Elvis impersonator to beat, though, and when he enters the dressing room, the hopes of all the others fade. John Saunders makes Rick cocky and confident, but there is no mistaking the sincerity of his desire. When Darlene - an obsessed and possessed fan zanily played by Stephanie Czajkowski - holds the other contestants hostage so Rick can claim the prize, he refuses to go on. He wants to win because he is truly the best at his craft.
And then there's Marty, who has been impersonating Elvis for years but has never been able to win, although he's come close a time or two. He promised his wife that he'll quit the day his first grandchild is born, and he gets the call that's he a grandpa shortly after he arrives at the Upper Club. This is his last chance. Bob Payne transforms Marty into the jumpsuited, bushy-sideburned Elvis with charming panache, and you can't help but root for him at the end.
Rounding out this group is Cathy. There are no sex restrictions in the contest, and Cathy is convinced she can hold her own with the best of them. Elizabeth Murff makes sure that Cathy does that and more, giving the audience an energy-packed performance.
Act One of Discovering Elvis lays the foundation for the contest and gives the audience glimpses into the lives of the people who love to impersonate The King. While the acting was great, one couldn't help but notice the lack of Elvis tunes to liven things up, and the dialogue didn't make sense at times.
But Act Two didn't disappoint. It exploded with the entertainment we've come to expect from Dennis Hitchcock's Circa '21 dinner theatre. The change from a backstage dressing room to the main stage at the Upper Club was spectacular, as set designer Dawn Robyn Petrlick created a perfect atmosphere to highlight the cast's fabulous musical performances.
One of the most delightful aspects of Discovering Elvis, though, came from the audience. The judge of the Upper Club contest must be replaced, and who better to decide if the spirit of Elvis still lives than those watching the show? Everyone took their job seriously, even those who weren't diehard Elvis fans, and by the end of the evening, not a soul left without believing they had discovered a little bit of Elvis living inside them.
Discovering Elvis continues at Circa '21 through February 24.