Adapted for the stage by Alan Janes and Rob Bettinson, based on the 1957 motion picture Jailhouse Rock, this rags to riches musical is about Vince Everett, an impoverished and angry young man who was deserted by his father as a child and reared by his mother on a trailer park. Vince dates a rich girl and as a result ends up in trouble. Sent to prison for manslaughter he dreams of becoming a singing success on his release. His opportunity comes when a TV Christmas charity event broadcasts live from prison. The producer of the show, Peggy van Aulden, recognises Vince’s talent and helps him to produce a record on his release from prison. After a few disappointments and one major betrayal, success eventually follows and Vince becomes a rock and roll star. How will his new found fame affect him? Will he turn his back upon the two friends who helped him survive in prison? And what about his relationship with Peggy van Aulden, will it blossom into romance or become shipwrecked upon the rocks of greed and ambition?
The set design by Adrian Rees captures the feel of a large, vicious and uncaring penitentiary, which enables you to feel the anger and frustration of the inmates, and though it dominates the stage throughout the first act whilst Vince is in prison, it looks clumsy and obtrusive throughout the second act, as we watch Vince pursue his career as a rock star. As a result the prison inmates, who are now no longer included in the story, apart from a few brief moments, have nothing to do but watch the second act lethargically from their cells.
Mario Kombou, who plays the lead role of Vince Everett, captures the voice of Elvis Presley but little else. He seems unable to gyrate his hips (he merely manages to shake his knees) and he remains impassive throughout. Fortunately, the show has a strong ensemble that provides the show with much needed energy.
The real star of the show is Gilz Terera who plays Quickly Robinson, a black inmate who befriends Vince. Gilz easily steals the limelight, with his portrayal of a dignified unbroken human spirit despite prejudice and injustice, not only that but he steals the show with his singing too. Even at the end of the evening when the show turns into an Elvis tribute concert, it is Gilz Terera who brings the house down with his dynamic rendition of Tutti Frutti.
Those who are hoping to hear the songs from the movie will be disappointed since the show has not received permission to perform the songs written for the film by Jerry Leiber & Mike Stoller. However, there are still some good Elvis hits to be had such as, ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘Always on my Mind’, and ‘Suspicious Minds’.
Not the greatest musical, however the ensemble put their heart and soul into the performance and Gilz Terera shines.
What other critics had to say.....
NICK CURTIS for THE EVENING STANDARD says, “This is a mess that even diehard Presley fans will strain to love." RHODA KOENIG for THE INDEPENDENT says, "Elvis by numbers lacks scorching heat of real King." LYN GARDNER for THE GUARDIAN says, "An evening confused by the tension between its own nastiness and its bouncy Mills and Boon coating." IAN JOHNS for THE TIMES says, "Before the first song is over, you feel that Elvis has already left the building."