|This is Elvis|
Milton Keynes Theatre
22 – 27 May 2006
Performances: Mon – Thu eves 7.30pm
Fri: 5.00pm & 8.30pm
Sat: 4.00pm & 8.00pm
"This is Elvis" is NOT a tribute show! Star Simon Bowman makes that very clear! Instead it captures the story of a very challenging period of Elvis’ life and career, charting his momentous journey back to stardom.
It was 1968 and the major musical event of the year was the first live TV special for Elvis Presley in what came to be known as "The ’68 Comeback Special".
It drew phenomenal ratings and re-established Elvis as the major entertainment star of the decade. Just a year later, Elvis starred at the International Hotel in Vegas, performing live for the first time in seven years, and securing his place in history as the King of Rock ’n’ Roll.
|This is Elvis|
"This is Elvis", which arrives in Milton Keynes this month, recreates all the drama leading up to the comeback as well as staging the monumental concert itself and features over 30 of Elvis’s hits including "Heartbreak Hotel", "Blue Suede Shoes", "Hound Dog", "Love Me Tender", "All Shook Up", "Jailhouse Rock", "Can’t Help Falling in Love", "In the Ghetto", "Suspicious Minds" and many more.
And this isn't the first time Simon Bowman has played the "King". He shot to fame in 1985 as Young Elvis in Alan Bleasdale’s award-winning hit "Are You Lonesome Tonight?" and since then has taken on a host of starring West End musical roles, including Jean Valjean and Marius in Les Miserables, Phantom and Raoul in Phantom of the Opera, and was a member of the original cast of Miss Saigon in which he created the lead role of Chris opposite Leah Salonga's Kim.
He told us about his latest role, and what he had learned about the legend that is Elvis.
You played the Young Elvis in Alan Beasdale's "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", how is the Elvis character that you are playing now different to that one?
Simon: The Alan Bleasdale play was a big hit and an award-winning play, but it was entirely a play and so completely different from what I'm doing now. And this show deals with just one period of his life.
In this I am singing versions of his records, from the newer to the later recordings so the voice changes through the show. You get the richness of when he's rehearsing with his band and singing "Bridge Over Troubled Water" to "King Creole" which is a different recording voice again.
People relate to what they know. If they listen to his recording of "It's Now or Never" they recognise it and all its nuances, so I put those into the song in the show and give the audience what they want. Basically I adapt my voice for each song.
Sounding just like Elvis must be quite a responsibility?
Simon: Yes - they pick you up on it if you don't get it right and you have to get all the movements and mannerisms as well!
There are die hard fans out there who know what they want to see and listen to, but so far the reviews have been fantastic so I must be doing something right?! I'm not an Elvis impersonator but it's worked out for me doing it this way!
This marks the first time any performance of Elvis’ music on stage has been endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises and it is also the first "book" musical ever written about Elvis, so this is far more than just a tribute show isn't it?
Simon: Yes - the first half is a play and the second half is his 1968 comeback concert and it deals with a pivotal time in his life.
He was making a comeback after 29 movies and the play deals with this, his conflict with his manager and his relationship with his wife.
He was going back to doing what he wanted to do, which was live concerts, but he had a fear of making a comeback. He was terrified. And there was also his new image - the jumpsuits - which was really new for him and he didn't know if he would be accepted.
The concert was a great success but he was frightened to death.
Have you done much research for the role or has playing him before helped? Have you learnt anything new about him this time?
Simon: We only had three weeks to research but we're on the road now so I'm doing a bit along the way.
22 years ago when I played him I did some reading about him but some more things have come out of this. The show deals with him in 1968/69 which is him at his best, when he was lean and fit. But I was interested in what a hold his agent had over him.
When Elvis was performing in the hotel in Las Vegas, his agent was gambling next door and didn't have to pay but he was able to keep his winnings - so he was actually earning more than Elvis.
That was the arrangement they had, but then again, without his manager, would he have been as big as he was?
Also, when The Beatles manager left them, the group asked Elvis' manager to represent them but he turned them down, saying that he only represented one person, and after Elvis died, it was his manager who sorted out all the memorabilia - it was like straight back to business. I never knew all that.
You seem to have played all the major parts in the big musicals, is there any part that you still have a hankering to take on?
Simon: Not really. I take each show as it comes and move on. It's not that I take it for granted, I just don't think about it that much. I enjoy it but I don't think about it that often, but I definitely wouldn't change anything. It's often just about being in the right place at the right time and I'm thankful for that.
Did you always want to do musical theatre, because you've been very successful at it?
Simon: When I was younger I didn't particularly have dreams but I just knew I wanted to do something. I was 21 when I came into the business so I wasn't that young. I did three years at drama college and came out at 21.
I came out of drama college so I expected to work but I didn't expect a musical career, but I came out of college and went into being a musical actor. I did no music in college at all, it was all Chekhov, Brecht and Ibsen. But interestingly, the college closed and moved and is now a musical college!
But I think that the drama stands me in good stead for musicals because acting is about putting things over more efficiently. Being able to sing a lovely song means nothing without the acting in a musical. For example, in the end I took this show because of the book, not because I'm an Elvis impersonator.
How did you get into musical theatre then?
Simon: In those days you had to do 42 weeks to get a full Equity card. I was accepted in the West End straight from drama college but hadn't even got my provisional card so I couldn't work. It was a vicious circle. It just so happened that the big thing with musicals was happening when I left drama school, so I did that.
Then I got offered Les Mis at the Barbican but I turned it down in favour of "Are You Lonesome Tonight?", because it was a play and I was an actor and his "Boys from the Blackstuff" was on telly. But it was still through that that I fell into a kind of singing thing. And I eventually went back to Les Mis.
They did give us singing lessons [at college] and at the audition I sang "We Don't Talk Anymore" by Cliff Richard while everybody else was doing little opera things - and they gave it to me!
Do you enjoy creating roles more than going into established ones?
Simon: Creating roles is special for me. I've played some major roles like Phantom and Jean Valjean. They were very special roles and I'm lucky that I've crossed over from juvenile lead to adult lead. But it's all very well doing something that someone else has done, but in the end, no one really recognises you for it, they just remember the original person.
I've played some wonderful parts but playing original roles has the edge. It's very special because people then remember you and you're plastered everywhere as well.
Have you got a favourite role that you've played?
Simon: My favourite is this one - it's whatever I'm doing at the moment. I put everything into it and I'm really focused and do the best I can, because you are only as good as your last performance.
Is there anything that you'd still like to do?
Simon: Yes. Star in my own musical! I've written it, it's sitting there, I've just got to put it out and see who will take it on. It's based on "The Lost Weekend", a film about an alcoholic who goes on a three day binge. It's been sitting around for two years!
I've also been touring with Carl Davies the film composer. We do our own show with an 80 piece orchestra doing Oscar winning songs. So I've got lots on the go!
But they've got big things planned for this show so I'll stick with it until other things happen!
What would you say to people thinking of coming along to see the show?
Simon: Come and have a good time. You'll enjoy a play in the first half and music in the second, whether you enjoy Elvis or not!
People come along and just bring their wives because they are fans, but then I get letters saying they didn't believe how good it was and that they have now bought all these records, so you do kind of get seduced by it.