Someday Productions LLC and Pillow Talking are pleased to present the following review of ATTACK OF THE ELVIS IMPERSONATORS playing Off-Broadway at the Lion Theatre
Through September 24th
Music is like religion – when you experience them both it should move you. – Elvis Presley
When I received the invitation in my email inbox to see and review Lory Lazarus’s irreverent new musical, Attack of the Elvis Impersonators, I could hardly contain myself. You see, my husband/co-reviewer is among the throngs of crazed, die-hard Elvis devotees and in addition to all of the DVDs, albums, and assorted other memorabilia, he even has a film to his credit that includes Elvis in its title and plot. What’s more, he created a riotously funny video segment to Mojo Nixon’s song “Elvis is Everywhere” (you can find it on his YouTube!) – and while he doesn’t exactly see Elvis as a religion like some do, he’s still got it bad. I couldn’t wait to tell him about the press opportunity and to pen it in big Sharpie letters on our busy theatre calendar.
But merely attending a performance of Attack of the Elvis Impersonators was just not going to be enough for us (and especially Wayne). We first had the delightful opportunity to interview Lazarus, the saucy comedic genius, songwriter, and playwright, and chat about his many works, which most notably include having written for the iconic children’s television program Barney & Friends, and later, Courage the Cowardly Dog. We did our homework and found he also has a rather long list of plays to his credit, many of which are so over-the-top unconventional that they have yet to be produced. We also came to learn he’s got a speeding cerebrum that neither has a filter nor an off button – and he sees humor in anything from skin moles to the tooth fairy. But excitement permeated our interview as he beamed about the fact that his Attack of the Elvis Impersonators was about to get legs (and atop them, gyrating hips) which would be gracing the Lion Theatre’s Off-Broadway boards. I can honestly say, would it not have been for press passes, I think Wayne would have camped out for days on the 42nd Street sidewalk of Theatre Row.
Now take the creativity of Lazarus and add expert direction by the masterful Don Stephenson (whose work we’ve seen numerous times at Paper Mill Playhouse including for The Producers and A Comedy of Tenors); choreography by theatre veteran Melissa Zaremba; and music direction, arrangements, and orchestration by Benjamin Rauhala and you’ve set a plan in motion for a production you can’t help falling in love with! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)
Who wouldn’t love this campy plot? When burnt-out heavy metal icon Drac Frenzie (think Stacee Jaxx from Rock of Ages) steps into the proverbial blue suede shoes of his idol Elvis as an attempt to spare himself from self-destruction, a miracle occurs. After a rollicking ride and meeting countless colorful characters along the way (not to mention getting an entirely new ‘do), he ultimately succeeds not only in saving himself but also the world through a new-fangled religion of peace – a faith steeped in the howls and fur of none other than the Hound Dog.
Anyone who knows and adores the late Elvis Aron Presley (any of the countless “Presleyterians” out there for example) knows that “Opulence” or “Overindulgence” might instead have been the King’s middle name. From his jet black pompadour to his rhinestone studded jumpsuits to his countless admirers (or even his famous peanut-butter-and-banana sandwiches), Lazarus channels much of these excesses into one outrageous book, music, and lyrics. But it’s not all about the glitz, because like the King, Attack has incredible heart and soul.
Drac (a fabulous Eric Sciotto) is on the fast track to a major crash if he doesn’t pull himself together. Sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll have taken their toll and there’s definitely got to be something living (or dead) in that massive headbanger head of hair he’s been sporting. Enter old friend Matt Shadow (Curtis Wiley is fantastic) and ZONK-TV personality Prissy Bordeaux (the multi-talented Laura Woyasz) – along with an enchanted locket from Drac’s youth – and whammo, he’s reborn. Elvis has re-entered the building and he has plans to take over the world – in a good way!
What happens next is a madcap roller coaster ride – with the Anti-Christ, threats of an apocalypse, Elvis masks which induce cult-like conversions, a band called the Screaming Gallbladders, Graceland, a deadly missile launch, cheesehead hats, palindromes, shifty religious leaders, and lots of howling. You can’t help but tap your toes while you chair dance away to his witty ditties that dig deep into themes of world peace, love, goodness, and finding your true self.
Sciotto rocks it both as the drugged out, over-the-top Drac as well as the iconic Elvis, where he embodies the King without ever becoming just a caricature. He’s a veteran of some 12 Broadway shows including Something Rotten!, The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Priscilla Queen of the Desert, and Rock of Ages. Woyasz brought the perfect blend of vulnerability and vivacity to Prissy; her Broadway credits include: Glinda as standby in Wicked; Off-Broadway: The Marvelous Wonderettes; and Tours: Thoroughly Modern Millie, among others. Wiley as Matt was phenomenal; his credits include Abee in the world premiere of The Total Bent. The cast also features an excellent Michael Biren (Crazy for You at the Lincoln Center Theater and the National Tour of Billy Elliot) as Rabbi Chaim Silvergoldberg/Ensemble; a hysterically funny Jim Borstelmann (Broadway’s original Chicago, The Producers, and Young Frankenstein to name just a few) as Anti-Christ/Ensemble; Jesse Carrey-Beaver (To Dance at FringeNYC 2015 and the Equity National Tour of Dirty Dancing) as Male Swing/u/s Drac; an exceptional performance by Badia Farha (Broadway: Sister Act, Sistas the Musical, Dreamgirls, Little Shop of Horrors) as Sheila Fisher/Ensemble; Warren Kelley (regional theatre credits include: To Kill a Mockingbird and Oliver! as well as the feature film Birdman) as Stan Goldstein/Governor Homan/Ensemble; Jeff Kready (Broadway: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, Billy Elliot) as Reverend Jeremiah/Stonewall/Ensemble; Whit K. Lee (Off-Broadway: Junie B. Jones Essential Survival Guide and Evergreen) as Reverend Sum Young Moo/Ensemble; Alexandra Palkovic (regional credits include: Singin’ in the Rain, 9 to 5) as Female Swing/u/s Prissy; Emily JeAnne Phillips (numerous regional theatre credits and the National Tour of Elf The Musical) as Governor’s Secretary/Black Widow/Ensemble; Catherine Walker (Broadway: A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder and Mary Poppins) as Sister Mary Peter Paul/Ensemble; and Jayme Wappel (regional theatre: West Side Story and Guys & Dolls) as President (who had a much better ‘do than Hillary, I must say)/Female Swing/Dance Captain.
The top-notch creative team includes Paul Tate dePoo III for a fabulous set design; Tracy Christensen for spot-on costumes; Travis McHale for excellent lighting design; Josh Liebert for sound design; and Shawn Duan for some really superb projections which tied it all together in a most spectacular fashion. A big hand to musicians Rauhala on keyboards (and as conductor); Jeremy Yaddow on drums; Steve Marks on bass; and Mark McCarron on guitar.
This high-spirited show pays homage to Elvis in the most infectious of ways. Full of energy and exuberance, it is pure escapist entertainment with heart and messages of kindness, as well as the divine providence of whomever you might serve – be that it might be the King himself (or G-O-D – only backwards – get it? D-O-G!). Ultimately it will leave you longing to take your own sartorial risks as you jump into a flashy pink Cadillac and head to the one and only Graceland where you may just get to experience your very own Elvis attack!
Even though Elvis Presley’s heyday in the fifties was before my time, I latched onto him from as far back as I can remember like a parasitic remora fish on the back of a shark. While kids my age and the little-bit-older baby boomers were caught up in the throes of Beatlemania, I was seeking out second-run movie houses that offered a double bill of Elvis films with titles like Tickle Me and Girl Happy. I saw Elvis three times in concert and saw all of his twenty-nine films and on-tour documentaries. Like the title of Sergio Leone’s famous spaghetti western, since his untimely demise in August, 1977, I’ve seen every manner of Elvis impersonator, act and/or show out there from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. So it is for these reasons I assert that I am expertly qualified to write this review – which means you have to listen to me.
Attack of the Elvis Impersonators is an absolute stunning tour de force! The brilliant book, catchy score, and earworm lyrics all were the product of the comic (and cosmic) genius of playwright, lyricist, and composer, Lory Lazarus. Even if you are not a die-hard Elvis fan like myself, there is something for everybody in this wonderful musical. Indeed, like Shrek’s onion analogy, there are a plethora of nuances and layers to this show. It’s the type of haunting play (in a good way) that stays with you long after the curtain call and works on your subconscious. You may find yourself waking up from a sound sleep at three-thirty in the morning (like I did) saying, “I got it!”
Because it does work on so many levels and must be really seen to be experienced, giving out too many plot details may actually spoil the quintessence and heart of the show. Like the observer phenomenon in quantum physics, the show is what you as the observer can make of it. Suffice it to say then that on one level it’s about a burnt out rock star (reminiscent of Tom Cruise’s portrayal of Stacee Jaxx in the celluloid version of Rock of Ages) who finds new meaning in his career and his life by impersonating his idol, Elvis. On another level, it is a thoroughly engaging and entertaining musical. As a comedy, it is side-splittingly hysterical and downright outrageous at times. There also is much enjoyable fodder that would please even the most ardent Elvis fan like myself.
Not to be too Woody Allen-esque (my favorite scene in Annie Hall is when he pulls Marshall McLuhan from behind a poster to shut down a loud mouth, know-it-all, armchair critic waiting in line to see a movie), but the whole Elvis impersonator thing can be seen as a metaphorical vehicle in which to communicate deeper underlying motifs; namely, good vs. evil, true worship vs. idolatry, celebrity obsession and sycophantry, political apathy, isolationism, and countless other salient themes that are directly relevant to (and resonate with) today’s cultural, social, and political milieu. If you even look close enough you can find biblical references to Revelations and Nostradamus’ quatrains (I kid you not!)
The cast is simply superb. Eric Sciotto as Drac Frenzie (and later the incarnation of Elvis) is knock-down-Elvis-drag-out amazing – pun intended. I have seen countless Elvis impersonators, wannabes, impressionists, etc. ranging from horrible to pretty good. I can honestly say that Eric is great! He channels the spirit of the real Elvis without making his portrayal a caricature. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that Eric is a true triple threat and can act, dance, and sing in his own persona as well as that of Elvis. Laura Woyasz is Priscilla Presley-perfect as Prissy Bordeaux. She does not even try to emulate the real Priscilla Presley; nor does she have to. In fact, she channeled more of Ann-Margret’s performance in Viva Las Vegas, especially being dressed like her in the film’s “C-mon Everybody” number. Sporting an afro and bell bottoms out of some of the seventies black exploitation films like Superfly, Shaft, and Blacula, Curtis Wiley is pitch perfect as Drac’s childhood friend and present-day consiglieri, Matt Shadow. The rest of the incredibly talented cast did double duty as a well-oiled Ensemble doubling and, in some cases, tripling in other parts. Warren Kelley (who Pillow Talking loved as the Father in Goodspeed Opera House’s Bye Bye Birdie) played an awesome Col. Tom Parker manager-like clone in the guise of Stan Goldstein. Jim Borstelmann is devilishly appealing as the Anti-Christ. Jamie Wappel channels an awesome Hillary-like Madame President from an alternate universe in which Clinton was elected over Trump. Shout outs must go to the rest of the actors, including: Michael Biren (Rabbi Chaim Silvergoldberg), Badia Farha (Sheila Fisher), Jeff Kready (Reverend Jeremiah Stonewall), Emily Jeanne Phillips (Governor’s Secretary), Catherine Walker (Sister Mary Peter Paul) – did someone catch the Peter, Paul, and Mary analogy?, and Whit K. Lee (Reverend Sum Young Moo).
Pillow Talking was familiar with Don Stephenson’s masterful direction of such comedies as The Producers and A Comedy of Tenors. He has outdone himself here. The pacing and staging are brilliant. There’s not a slow or dull moment in the entire play. Stephenson’s comic timing is impeccable. Kudos also must go to Benjamin Rauhala (Music Direction), Melissa Zaremba (Choreography), Tracy Christensen (Costume Design), and Paul Tate dePoo III (Scenic Design).
The play is now on my all-time list of favorite musicals on or Off-Broadway, There is no greater compliment that I can give than to say, “Damn it, Lory Lazarus, I wish I had produced, written, and directed your play.” Turn off “Fux News” now and go see Attack of The Elvis Impersonators for some genuine, hilarious, yet thought-provoking entertainment!