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Southern Florida by John Lariviere


Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love

Also see John's review of Bingo

Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love
Ryan Link, Kelly King and
Tom LoShiavo

The Caldwell Theatre presents the Elvis Presley musical tribute conceived and produced by Jack Lewin, Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love. Created by Lewin, Will Friedwald and Jay Leonhart, this show features over 80 Elvis songs, and is billed as "a celebration not an imitation" of the late, great Elvis Presley. The show made its world premiere this summer at the Mason Street Warehouse in Saugatuck, Michigan, before coming to South Florida.

Ryan Link is the most seasoned member of this cast, with tousled good looks, an easy confidence and a versatile singing voice. The best use of his voice is in songs such as "You Don't Have to Say You love Me." Kelly King does an outstanding rendition of "In The Ghetto," though her voice is used too frequently in other parts of the show in the slightly strident belt style of so many American Idol contestants. The beauty of her voice is in slower numbers, especially when showing signs of her country roots when she sounds like a meatier version of Crystal Gail. The young Tom LoSchiavo has a tender, breathy quality in his solo voice. Though none of his solos may stand out, his vocal work throughout the show is solid. Band member Rob Ercolano does a particularly fine job playing multiple instruments with equal finesse.

Regrettably, the talents of those on stage cannot redeem what is best described as a middle-of-road theme park revue. The generally bland arrangements are too frequently far afield of the style in which they were originally done. These changes in style sometimes result in damaging the original musical intent of the songs. The show's version of "Don't Be Cruel," for example, is torturously slow enough to break the back of the melody. Through no fault of the five-piece onstage band, the arrangements are not full enough for the rock and roll numbers, and a particularly anemic guitar accompaniment to "Peace In The Valley" badly needs rewriting. The show's finale features the cast playing guitar and singing "Love Me Tender." On the night attended, it appeared the guitar may not have been tuned, as the key in which it was played did not match the key in which they were singing.

The quickest fix for this show would be a script rewrite with a stronger through line. The dialogue is sparse and badly written, and offers no real assistance in tying the songs together - the order of the songs doesn't help either. The attempts at humor are awkward and random. A song insert about an internet love affair gone wrong clearly is aimed at a younger "MySpace" demographic, and left many mature audience members bewildered. Another song, performed as if it were a recording filled with skips and scratches is a lot of work and simply not funny. The only humorous bit that works is a number featuring the cast singing in reggae and rap. Celebrating the music of Elvis Presley with a contemporary edge is a viable artistic endeavor, but Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love, in its present state, is not a viable vehicle for that endeavor.

Production dates for Hunka Hunka Burnin' Love at the Caldwell Theatre Company are November 5th - December 17th, 2006. The Caldwell Theatre Company is a professional theatre company hiring local and non-local Equity and non-Equity actors. They are located at 7873 N. Federal Highway, Boca Raton, FL 33487-1640 in the Levitz Plaza. Look for the theatres' proposed relocation to their new space in the North Boca Village Center, where it will be housed in the Count de Hoernle Theatre. For tickets to this and other shows, you may contact the Caldwell at 561-241-7432 or visit: www.caldwelltheatre.com.

Cast
Kelly King**
Ryan Link**
Tom LoSchiavo**

Crew
Director: Kurt Stamm+
Musical Director: Tedd Firth
Associate Musical Directors: Dennis Blischak and Phil Hinton
Scenic Design:Tim Bennett (Adapted from original design by Todd Engle)
Lighting Design: Jennifer Kules
Sound Design: Sean Lawson
Stage Manager: Molly Elizabeth McCarter*

*Indicates member of the Actor's Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United states.

**Indicates member of the American Guild of Variety Artists (AGVA), AFL/CIO union of variety, comedy and revue performers in the United States.

+Indicates member of the Society of Stage Directors and Choreographers, an independent national labor union.


Photo: Caldwell Theatre Co.


See the current theatre season schedule for southern Florida.

-- John Lariviere



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