Playhouse, Edinburgh – until 25 July
Crisp, knowing and contagiously fun, Love Me Tender thrusts and gyrates its hips upon the Playhouse stage for a week-long run as part of its UK tour.
Serial detainee Chad is on the road again, swooping from one dead-end town to the next. Wherever the bequiffed roustabout parks his motorbike, the women swoon, jukeboxes hum and the prose turns purple with lurve. Guaranteeing Chad a run-in with the local forces of prurient uptight, fifties American order.
And it’s just about to happen all over again in this particular, no-name one-horse town where single mom Sylvia (Mica Paris) runs the bar, widower Jim (Shaun Williamson) the garage and the Mayor Matilda Hyde (Sian Reeves) the morals.
Dotting around like only the best Jukebox Musical can, Love Me Tender takes a good 25 songs made famous by Elvis, shows them to one of Shakespeare’s more outrageous plots (Twelfth NIght) and prays: “Don’t be Cruel!” to the gods of Musical Theatre.
They were obviously listening. From the moment Ben Lewis as Chad pulls the flush on his Jailhouse Rock and hits the road, this production hits all the right notes.
Making a virtue of its simple set, it marries strong storytelling with even stronger voices and extremely well-drilled choreography to ensure that the King’s songs are used to their best advantage.
Lewis has both the necessary animal magnetism and arrogance to carry the central role of Chad. No wonder Jim’s young mechanic daughter Natalie (the fab Laura Tebbutt) falls for him on first sight. And no wonder that he not only doesn’t notice – he only has eyes for the unattainable Miss Sandra (Kate Tydeman) – but gets her silent admirer Dennis (the hugely hard working Mark Anderson) to be his official sidekick.
There are great performances right down the cast, but it helps that both the star turns are there for their abilities, rather than their pull.
Mica Paris might not come from an acting background, but she can certainly do big, ferocious but miss-understood. If her voice feels a shade underused in the first half, when she does get to show off the size of her musical chops, with an outstanding There’ll Always Be Me, its a climactic moment well worth waiting for.
If Shaun Williamson will forever be known as Barry from EastEnders, he has more than proved his musical theatre credentials over recent years. He plays his turn as down-at-heart Jim with proper understanding of the need to ground the role with melancholy in order to let all around him shine. And he can pull off the music, too.
The relationship between these two is signalled from almost the word go – and certainly from the moment they are on stage together – but the rest of Joe Dipietro’s book is packed with red herrings and surprises. And is never a slave to realism, preferring 21st century sensibilities to 1950s attitudes.
Where ever you look, there is a voice able to do justice to the music. Not – necessarily – to mimic Elvis, but to find a way of giving it meaning and ensuring that the plot, pure hokum that it might be, slips smoothly by.
And it has a great line with the knowing quip. When the superb Aretha Ayeh as Sylvia’s daughter Lorraine discovers her new true love Dean Hyde (Felix Mosse) is just about to leave town, he slips in a “you know what this means, don’t you?” before they launch into stellar version of It’s Now Or Never.
This might be one for fans of the King, but fans of a great night out will be as equally impressed with a show that delivers big voices, big songs and really tight direction from director and choreographer Karen Bruce.
Running time: 2 hours 38 mins (including interval)
Edinburgh Playhouse, Greenside Place, EH1 3AA
Monday 20 – Saturday 25 July 2015
Evenings: 7.30pm; Wednesday, Saturday matinee: 2.30pm
Tickets and information from: http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/love-me-tender/edinburgh-playhouse/
Love Me Tender on tour 2015:
20 – 25 July 2015
0844 871 3014
27 July – 1 August
Milton Keynes Theatre
0844 871 7652
3 – 8 August
0844 871 7648
10 – 15 August
08448 713 017
17 – 22 August
The Grand Opera House
08448 472 322
24 – 29 August
The New Alexandra Theatre
0844 871 3011
31 August – 5 September
08448 717 620
7 – 12 September
0844 871 7645
14 – 19 September
029 2087 8889
21 – 26 September
Bord Gais Energy Theatre
0818 719 377