Jailhouse Rock, Piccadilly Theatre, London

Elvis by numbers lacks scorching heat of real King
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The Independent Culture

Before the curtain actually rises on Jailhouse Rock, there is, for some reason, a medley of mellow music - "Side By Side," "Cheek to Cheek," even "Great Balls of Fire" and Perry Como. The musical itself isn't as bland as these old-time tunes but it's not a lot spicier. There's nothing in this Elvis tribute to frighten the coach parties.

Before the curtain actually rises on Jailhouse Rock, there is, for some reason, a medley of mellow music - "Side By Side," "Cheek to Cheek," even "Great Balls of Fire" and Perry Como. The musical itself isn't as bland as these old-time tunes but it's not a lot spicier. There's nothing in this Elvis tribute to frighten the coach parties.

The plot is that of the 1957 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 runs into more bad luck and trouble, 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, and the show now has a smidgen of profanity and race hatred and a few references to non-traditional sex practices. But it also has none of the film's Leiber and Stoller numbers, not even the title tune.

Instead, there are 23 songs of the period, a few Elvis-related ("Suspicious Minds", "Blue Suede Shoes"), but none with any sex or threat. I don't know about you, but my heart or anything else has never leapt up at "This Ole House" or "Such a Night."

Mario Kombou also keeps the temperature tepid. The star has a vague resemblance to Elvis but lacks his vulnerability as well as his insinuating sensuality and his pretty-good Elvis impression is only so from the neck up. Kombou moves his legs with the caution and uncertainty of a man who has 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 and never gets to sing.

Vince and his girl are partners in their record company but Peace is given no personality to play. She just pertly scolds the star, while Kombou is as isolated and pampered - his numbers, all solos, make Jailhouse Rock feel less like a book show than an interrupted concert; only once does Vince use a song to express the emotion of the moment, and then he's alone.

The evening ends with a singalong whose final tune is sung not by Kombou but by Gilz Terera, a black actor who plays another singing prisoner. This may seem odd dramatically, but it was the only way to raise the tone from phlegm to frenzy. For Terera has the charisma and the musicality (and the musculature) that Kombou lacks. When Terera unreels his Little Richard antics, the joint really jumps. Otherwise, Jailhouse Rock is a case of "Awopbopaloobop-awopbamthud."

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