The King is a certifiable Orange County storefront phenomenon, staged at more venues, and seen by more people, than any other locally generated play this side of SCR's A Christmas Carol. This fourth incarnation of Brian Newell's musical homage to Elvis Presley is the shortest, leanest and most compact production to date, with unnecessary subplots and characters either eliminated or tightened up.
All the reasons people embrace The King remain intact: the live band, which plays portions of some two dozen Presley songs; Frank Tryon's likable, committed performance as the king of rock & roll (thawed from a cryonic chamber some 30 years after his ultimate crap-out); and the effective use of video projections.
It's the best production yet of The King. Unfortunately, that's not saying much; it remains an intellectually vacuous novelty. Newell has yet to address his play's most egregious flaw: the simplistic, white-bread representation of one of America's most fascinating cultural figures. Elvis is an icon—a certifiable American original whose story should make for compelling drama and theater.
Not in The King. This Elvis is, as he states after the play's cheaply forced climax, just a simple guy who liked to sing songs and was lucky that the world liked his music. The play's lone germ of an idea involves a ridiculous Geraldo Rivera-like DNA conspiracy that results in no one believing the king is really the king; he's legally barred from singing his own songs and forced to shill for fast-food companies at rodeos in order to make a buck. The Christ parallel—what if Jesus came back and no one believed it was really him?—is interesting for a heartbeat but becomes more and more preposterous as the play drags on. Gaping plot holes make The King a difficult play to enjoy for anyone seeking more than a gussied-up night of karaoke. It is Titanic helmed by the Ty-D-Bol Man, the Chipmunks covering The White Album: interesting in a transitory, kitschy way, but so utterly illogical that it renders any serious contemplation impossible.
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THE KING AT THE MAVERICK THEATER, 110 E. WALNUT AVE., FULLERTON, (714) 526-7070. THURS.-SAT., 8 P.M.; SUN., 3 & 8 P.M. THROUGH APRIL 9. $10-$20.