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Attack of the Elvis Impersonators

Theatre Review by James Wilson - June 15, 2017

Eric Sciotto and Laura Woyasz
Photo by Jeremy Daniel Photography

Just a few years ago, Broadway audiences witnessed a swarm of Elvis impersonators jumping out of a plane in Honeymoon in Vegas, the Jason Robert Brown and Andrew Bergman musical based on Bergman's film. That's nothing compared with the invasion Off Broadway at the Lion Theatre where Attack of the Elvis Impersonators is currently playing. There is a whole lot of shaking going on, and while the whimsical notion that Elvis impersonators may once and for all relieve the world of evil may provide enough laughs for a comedy sketch, even diehard Elvis fans sitting through two full acts may find themselves shouting, "Don't be cruel!"

The broadly comic and satirical musical, with book, music, and lyrics by Lory Lazarus, follows Drac Frenzie (Eric Sciotto), a colossally famous and enormously rich heavy metal rock star. Drac is a hirsute cross between Peter Frampton and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler, and we first meet him in an ear-splitting and eye-piercing concert setting. Accompanied by his back-up girls, the Black Widows, Drac rocks his way through "It Ain't Heavy Metal," which contains the not-so-subtle sexual rejoinder, "It's heavy bone." Drac, however, is not living his dream career. As he tells his close friend Matt Shadow (a terrifically talented Curtis Wiley), who personifies Motown-meets-James-Brown, Drac has always and only wanted to be an Elvis impersonator. Luckily, Matt has retrieved a log-lost magical locket that an Elvis apparition gave to a young Drac, so the rocker can now trim and grease his locks, don a pair of blue suede shoes, and follow his bliss.

The first act offers a good deal of fun as it pursues Drac's rockabilly transition. Sciotto brings just enough bravado and sneer to the Elvis characterization while not losing the self-effacing character underneath.? The score by Lazarus, who has written songs for the PBS children's show Barney and Friends, is an amalgam of rock, musical theatre, and Elvis parodies. The songs are serviceable if not distinctive. Additionally, director Don Stephenson and choreographer Melissa Zaremba make imaginative use of the tiny theatre space while poking gentle fun at Elvis veneration and idolatry. Indeed, a highlight of the first half is a spoof of one of the King's best known films. As Drac's star has reached its zenith, he and the entire company perform the loopy and catchy "Viva Milwaukee!"

The first act also introduces Drac's love interest, Prissy Bordeaux (whose name Elvis fans may associate with Priscilla Beaulieu—the future Mrs. Presley). Prissy, performed by a charming and affecting Laura Woyasz, is invisible to Drac. That is until she lets down her hair, dons capri pants and a tight sweater, and Voila!, she bears more than a passing resemblance to Ann Margret. (The costumes—and there are a lot of them—are designed by Tracy Christensen, and they are spot-on.)

The act concludes with the meteoric rise of a cult of Evis impersonators just as a powerful Anti-Christ from across the globe is moving westward. Through the magic of the locket and with mystical Elvis half-masks that spiritually transform the wearers, an army of followers are on the march to spread with missionary zeal, "The Word of the Hound Dog." The blessing of this new religion might as well be "Next year in Graceland."

And then there is an Act II. The Anti-Christ (Jim Borstelman) has made considerable strides in taking over the entire world, and the fate of the earth depends on the power of "The Word of Hound Dog" to save civilization as we know it. Character development and relationships of the first act give way to forced silliness in the second. The apocalyptic lunacy brings to mind the final part of The Rocky Horror Show but in the style of a superhero comic book created by a high school student.

I have to admit, though, even as I held firmly to my dropping jaw, I couldn't help but giggle over Jim Borstelman's campy Anti-Christ. His villain is part Donald Trump—cursing at his minions, "Covfefe!"—and large part Fosse dancer. Mr. Borstelman, an original cast member of the revival of Chicago, suggests that the Anti-Christ has conquered the world through a combination of an insinuating frug and a hypnotic sleight of jazz hands. Every move he makes is punctuated with an exclamation point. I also marveled at the cleverness of Lazarus's anagram song, "The Evils of Elvis," which choreographically re-arranged the cast members, each wearing a letter in Elvis's name, to show the numerous words to be mined from "Elvis" (including my favorite, which has a connection to a brand of denim jeans).

During the curtain call the company of actors distributed cardboard half-Elvis masks, similar to the ones that sent the cult members into rapture and fortified them against the Ant-Christ. Unfortunately, mine was defective. I left the theatre wishing I could have spent the last two hours watching Anti-Christ! The Musical! instead.

Attack of the Elvis Impersonators
Through September 24
The Lion Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: Telecharge

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