The Elvis | Performing Arts Review | Chicago Reader

The Elvis 

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THE ELVIS, Raven Theatre. Everything that makes Will Kern's long-running late-night comedy Hellcab such a brilliant play--his ear for dialogue, his eye for true-to-life scenes, his deft use of character-driven humor--is missing from this eccentric, corny, desperately unfunny rock musical. Kern's new work (score by Shawn Letts and J.B. Skye), The Elvis, takes a cast of characters lifted from the pages of supermarket tabloids (Elvis lives with Jackie O., who admits she's really the daughter of space aliens) and mixes them with a handful of Greek gods (Zeus, Hera, Ares) to create a wild, convoluted, and not very interesting plot.

A camp genius like Charles Ludlam could have had a field day with a story like this, packing it with lots of sly asides and satirical subtext. Kern plays mostly with surfaces, trying to get laughs with cheap one-liners and mock Elizabethan dialogue--lots of thous and thees and dosts--and moving to a new location and new character whenever things grind to a halt, which they do with the regularity of the 22 bus. Director Michael Menendian tries to compensate by packing the show with terrific comic performers--Will Casey, Holly Wantuch, Marc A. Nelson (Elvis)--but like Kern he doesn't seem to know how to turn this chaos into comedy.

Kern, Letts, and Skye's songs--most of them parodic homages to the pop rock of the Viva Las Vegas Elvis--are considerably more successful; there just aren't enough of them. A dozen more like the witty knockoff "Viva Atlantis!" would have gone a long way toward redeeming this paper-thin book.

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