Jailhouse Rock, Piccadilly Theatre, London
Thursday 22 April 2004
Before the curtain rises on
Jailhouse Rock, the scene is set: we're in coach-party land, with Perry Como and Frank Sinatra crooning anodyne songs. This is a show for people who are ready for something a bit more daring than Cliff Richard but don't want to get carried away.
Before the curtain rises on Jailhouse Rock, the scene is set: we're in coach-party land, with Perry Como and Frank Sinatra crooning anodyne songs. This is a show for people who are ready for something a bit more daring than Cliff Richard but don't want to get carried away.
The plot is that of the 1957 Elvis movie: "Daddy, we love each other!" "Why don't you run back to your slum and sing to the niggers?" Biff, bam, crunch. "You have been found guilty of the crime of manslaughter." "I'm gonna be a singer."
On his release, Vince Everett becomes a star but Gets Above Himself and, when cut down, rediscovers his humanity and claims his girl. The days are gone when "You're the cutest jailbird I ever did see - come on and do the jailhouse rock with me!" could be taken as an invitation to dance, so authors Rob Bettinson and Alan Janes have added a smidgen of profanity and race hatred, and a few throwaway references to non-traditional sex practices.
The film's Leiber and Stoller numbers have been dropped, however, including the title tune. Instead, there are 23 songs of the period, a few Elvis-related ("Blue Suede Shoes", "Suspicious Minds"), but none with any sex or threat. Personally, my heart or anything else has never leapt at "This Ole House" or "Such a Night".
The star, Mario Kombou, keeps the temperature tepid. He bears a vague resemblance to Elvis, but lacks his vulnerability or insinuating sensuality, and his pretty-good Elvis impression is only so from the neck up. Kombou moves his legs with the uncertainty of a man who's just had them removed from plaster, and there is no spark between him and Lisa Peace, who looks like a dominatrix version of Annette Funicello.
Vince and his girl may be partners in their record company, but he does 100 per cent of the singing. Is there another musical in which the female love interest doesn't get a single song, or even a duet with the male lead? This doesn't only deprive the songs of any dramatic meaning - think how touching it would be if Vince gave his heart to a girl who shyly but gamely croaked out her love - it's ungracious. Less a book show than an interrupted concert, Jailhouse Rock has Vince use a song only once to express the emotion of the moment, rather than entertain a crowd, and then he's alone.
The evening ends on a note that may be regarded as either gracious or patronising. Kombou hands the closing number to Gilz Terera, a black actor who plays another singing prisoner, and who shows off his verve, musicality, impish humour and well-defined musculature in "Angel Eyes".
Why didn't the producers of Jailhouse Rock make the logical update and give us a sexy black rebel - especially since American prisoners, now as then, are disproportionately black. In Terera's earlier tune and in the finale, "Tutti Frutti", performer and song are perfectly matched. Otherwise, Jailhouse Rock is a case of Awop- bopaloolopalopbamthud.
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