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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Jailhouse Rock
Piccadilly Theatre, Spring 2004 - Spring 2005

Another entry in the theatre-for-people-who-don't-go-to-the-theatre category, this stage musical version of the Elvis Presley film isn't half bad, and should satisfy those looking for no more than the proverbial fun evening out.

The story, as in the film, is simple and not particularly original - poor boy goes to prison, is discovered as a singer, and becomes a big star when he gets out, almost losing his way (and the girl) but ending happily.

Such are the vagaries of copyright that the producers of this show (the same people who put together the similar Buddy) could get the rights to the story from the film company, but not the rights to the songs that were in the movie.

So they've done the next best thing, patching together a score from a few Elvis songs they could get - Are You Lonesome Tonight, Burnin' Love, etc. - along with some other rock'n'roll songs of the period - Memphis Tennessee, Tutti Frutti, etc.- and some folk and country songs.

The mix sometimes clashes, but enough of the numbers work to keep the audience in the right mood up to the 20 minute finale-plus-encores that end the show, when things rock hard enough to get most of the house up on its feet.

In the central role Mario Kombou does a more-than-passable Elvis. He's got the sound, the moves, the sneer and, more importantly, the sexual energy. And most importantly, he never falls over into parody as most Elvis impersonators do. Taken purely on its own terms, without the shadow of Elvis on it, it's a strong and attractive performance, contributing significantly to the show's success.

Lisa Peace as the girl won and almost lost, and Roger Alborough and Gilz Terera as jailhouse buddies aren't given a whole lot to do by the simplistic plot, but provide what dramatic and musical support is needed.

There are lots of little things wrong with the show. The spoken dialogue is often comically inept. The attempts to hold on to the jailhouse theme even though the hero is only there for part of Act One don't quite work. A plot twist built on his anger when another singer makes a hit out of a cover version of his song rings unintentionally ironic when a few minutes later we hear him sing Blue Suede Shoes. And the story never actually finishes - it just morphs into a concert, curtain calls and encores.

But, while the audience for Hamlet or the National Theatre is not likely to find much more here than a pretty good tribute concert, audiences for tribute concerts, or Buddy, or Cats, or Fame will find this modestly entertaining show thoroughly enjoyable.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Jailhouse Rock - Piccadilly 2004