Elvis 68 Maverick Theater 9-14-14 It may not be completely accurate to say The King is the play that built the Maverick Theater. After all, there have been other shows at the Fullerton space since Brian Newell's homage to Elvis Presley, who wakes up after decades of cyrogenic slumber, first opened.
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Newell's primary conceit in this show is telling it through the words of Steve Binder (Frank Tryon) the dude who put together the 1968 TV special. But while Tryon is likable enough, and Binder's monologues do provide some interesting context behind the making of the special and Elvis' absence on the pop culture radar in an age of Beatles, hippies and protests, the bulk of this show is really the performance of Casey Ryan, who performs the songs on a makeshift television stage.
Ryan isn't an Elvis impersonator. He doesn't look like Presley nor does he possess his guttural lower register. But he wraps himself in the character very well and has enough acting and singing chops that all but the most purist Presley fan will easily suspend their disbelief.
Decked out in the same black leather suit that Presley wore during his 1968 special, Binder thrusts, shakes and rocks through the more uptempo numbers, like Jailhouse Rock and All Shook Up but it actually at his most effective in the slower numbers, such as Love Me Tender and Are you Lonesome Tonight. . Backed by a stellar band comprised of guitarist Jack Majdecki, bassist Floyd Bland and drummer Sho Fujieda, there is nothing weak or thin with this show's music. But one can find fault with the gossamer sheen that adorns the non-musical aspects of this show. It's clear that Newell is a huge fan of Presley's; that is illustrated through Binder's realization that a performer he'd basically written off for years actually possesses far more humility and charm--and importance--than he'd ever realized.
But Elvis was also a Major Weirdo. Though svelte, sexy and charismatic in his 1968 special, which reinvigorated his career and made him relevant once again, it was't long before he was offering his services to Richard Nixon in the war against crime and waddling his fat, drugged-up garish jumpsuit-wearing ass across Las Vegas stages.
Presley is one of America's quintessential American tragedies: a man who helped launch a genuine American cultural revolution but who abdicated his throne by dying on his toilet. No, that's not what Elvis 68 is about, but in attempting to craft a play around what is, by any account, a triumphant return by a prince of American popular culture, Newell's play, while obviously a snapshot in Presley's life and career, also seems to operate in a vacuum.
But if you're a fan of Presley, and that 1968 TV special, you will not be disappointed. Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave., Fullerton, (714) 526-7070. Fri.-Sat., 8 p.m. $10-$25. www.mavericktheater.com.