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A CurtainUp LondonLondon Review
Jailhouse Rock - The Musical
by Lizzie Loveridge

Don't you step on my blue suede shoes.
--- Song lyric
Jailhouse Rock - The Musical
Mario Kombou as Elvis Presley playing Vince Everett
(Photo: Stephen Vaughan)
Jailhouse Rock - The Musical is that theatrical phenomenon, despised by most, if not all of the critics, but adored by the audience. I often fall midway between the two positions, enough of a nostalgic ageing rock chick to love the music but knowing that this is essentially a crowd-pleaser rather than a ground breaking musical. I'm afraid that Jailhouse Rock finds me all critic. Jailhouse Rock - The Musical comes from the same production team which produced Buddy a long running West End hit.

The movie Jailhouse Rock was Elvis Presley's third after Love Me Tender and Loving You. It was essentially a vehicle for Elvis to bring his image on celluloid to his many fans. It tells the tale of Vince Everett (Mario Kombou) who, after accidentally killing a man who is attacking a girl, goes from jail bird to famous rock musician in the spin of a 1950s 78 rpm. On the way he makes friends and loses them and confuses those who are true friends with those only interested in his fame. The story line is schmaltzy, predictable and corny.

The music sadly was not allowed to include the eponymous hit nor "You're So Square Baby I Don't Care", "Treat Me Nice" and "I Want To Be Free" as the composers and owners of the song rights, Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller, refused to release them to the musical's producers. However there is a good selection of classic pop songs from the 1950s and 1960s, songs such as "Suspicious Minds", "Pretty Little Angel Eyes", "Blue Suede Shoes" and "Are You Lonesome Tonight?".

Mario Kombou has a voice very like Elvis and his singing is excellent. From a distance he might only bear a resemblance to the King but he gyrates his pelvis in an authentically hip grinding fashion. However Mario is trying to be Elvis rather than Vince Everett! I was enthralled with Gilz Terera who has a fabulous voice, tons of energy and who, for my money, stole the show with his tuneful rendition of "Pretty Little Angel Eyes". The acting largely recreates that of the 1957 movie -- need I say more?

There is not as much choreography as you might expect for a West End musical but some jive numbers and a country ho down which opens the show. The prison set has a realistic metal netted balcony which allows the actors to perform at two levels, but there is no artistic justification for leaving this set onstage for all of the second half when Vince has been released from prison and is making his way in the rock business. The lighting provides some great sunsets; and the sound of a lone harmonica notches up the evocation.

The night I was there the crowd got to their feet to greet the final few numbers. They were having an excellent time. Many were old enough to remember the original but they had brought their children and grandchildren. An extended reprise followed and an encore was enlivened by a girl throwing her underwear onstage. A night for those into 1950s nostalgia!

Jailhouse Rock - The Musical
Written by Ro Bettinson and Alan Janes based on Jailhouse Rock from the Turner Entertainment Company Film Library
Directed by Rob Bettinson

Starring: Mario Kombou, Gilz Terera
With: Roger Alborough, John Banister, Anna Carmichael, Alison Carter, Dominic Colchester, Roxy Harris, Sean Stewart Johnson, Kevin Oliver Jones, Melanie Marcus, Tim Parker, Simon Parrish, Lisa Pearce, Michael Quinn, Benedict Relton, Mark Roper, Jo Servi, Steve Simpson, Annie Wensak, Gareth Williams, Otto Williams.
Designer: Adrian Rees
Musical Supervisor: David Mackay
Lighting Designer: Alistair Grant
Sound: Simon Baker
Music Director: Julian Littman
Choreographer: Drew Anthony
Running time: Two hours 30 minutes with one interval
Box Office: 0870 060 6630
Booking to 18th September 2004.
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 21st April 2004 at the Piccadilly Theatre, Denman Street London SW1 (Tube Piccadilly Circus)
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