Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Love Me Tender

Image Source: Love Me Tender
Written By: Mark Armstrong

Format: Musical
Genre: Comedy
Date: August 10 2015
Location: Liverpool Empire Theatre

Any show which promises the music of Elvis Presley is bound to be a fun presentation. However, whilst Love Me Tender does indeed base its musical score on many of the King's greatest hits, the story itself is less about Graceland's finest and more about the subject of love and how a number of aspiring relationships stem out of just "One Night".

Love Me Tender, a new show which was first shown on Broadway, sees the lead character Chad (Ben Lewis) leave jail after "exciting" the ladies in that town, only for him to move onto the next place with the same intentions in mind (we aren't told which towns they are, by the way). Clad in a biker vest and jeans, he is clearly positioned as the star of the show, at least in terms of his profile within the story.

When he arrives at the local bar in his newest host city, Chad captures the attention of all attendees and the hearts of all female customers, none more so than Natalie (Laura Tebbitt), who immediately falls in love with the new arrival, much to the chagrin of local nerd Dennis (Mark Anderson) who himself has a crush on young Natalie. But whilst this is the longest-running love story of the production, there are a variety of tales which take prevalence at various times.

Examples include the budding romance between youngsters Dean (Felix Mosse) and Lorraine (Aretha Ayeh) which defies the racial prejudice held by many at the time (including those of Mayor Matilda Hyde, mother of Dean, and played by Sian Reeves; and the on-stage mother of Lorraine, Sylvia, who is played by Mica Paris); the often-baffled Jim (played by former Eastenders star Shaun Williamson) who finds it very difficult to convey his true feelings in light of the romantic chaos going on around him; and the bizarre situation where Chad's attempts to woo museum manager Miss Sandra (Kate Tydman) indirectly result in her falling in love with a newcomer named Ed, who in actual fact is Natalie dressed as Chad to try and impress him. Confused? It'll all make sense when you watch the show. And with so many budding romances advancing at different stages, there has to be an ending which ties up all the loose ends and provides a satisfactory conclusion in each arc, some more surprising than others. Which this show does - but who ends up with whom?

The story is complex but easy to follow despite the detail above, and there is a lot of humour in between the displays of romantic affections and the musical numbers (more on them shortly). Some scenes work better than others, as is often the case in a theatre show which has an ebb-and-flow strategy when it comes to providing laughs, but it's fair to say that you will definitely be laughing at some of the visuals and verbals which arise during this show.

As for the music? As the name Love Me Tender suggests, the songs of Elvis Presley help to tell the story of this show, some of which tie in perfectly with the plot developments, and some of which are there to provoke ironic laughter. But none are sung in an attempt to sound like Elvis, as each character brings their own style to their specific musical numbers (and actually, the name "Elvis Presley" isn't mentioned once during the entire production). A number of Elvis' most famous tracks are included such as Jailhouse Rock, Hound Dog and Heartbreak Hotel, although there are some notable omissions, one example being Suspicious Minds. Mind you, not all Elvis song references come in a musical form; for instance, nearly every character at some point ends up wearing a pair of those famous "Blue Suede Shoes".

However, whilst the songs are most associated with Elvis, the best musical moment of the show is a very non-Elvis like performance from Mica Paris. A well-known female vocalist in her own right, Mica more than anybody brings her own distinctive style to her singing, and her slow, powerful rendition of There's Always Me is unquestionably the musical highlight of the entire production. Another notable solo performance came from Aretha Ayeh, more impressive considering her young age in the company of older stars; and even the weaker singers were rescued by the comedic elements to their routines. Elsewhere, the setting was understated yet acceptable, and the closing scenes were effective enough to get the audience on their feet, waving their arms as if they were in the presence of the King himself.

Overall, Love Me Tender is an enjoyable night of musical theatre. It was something of a slow starter, as it took its time to find its groove (no pun intended). But once the plot lines became clear, it only got better, from the strength of the musical performances to the comedy elements of the most light-hearted scenes, and as stated it does a fine job of bringing a satisfying end to a variety of story arcs. Those expecting to attend something akin to an Elvis Presley concert may be disappointed, but for those who want to sit back and watch engaging comedy theatre action with the King providing the soundtrack, Love Me Tender is a pleasant and fun production, and it may even leave the more excited attendees All Shook Up.

Overall Rating: 7.5/10 - Good

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