By Ryan Leeds
Before attending the Off-Broadway show Attack of the Elvis Impersonators, I met a friend at a nearby café. When the check arrived, I offered her money for the iced coffee I had ordered. “Don’t worry about it. You’re taking me to the theater,” she said. “But what if the show is bad?” I replied. At intermission of this interminable mess of a musical, I turned to her and said, “Please! Let me pay you for the coffee.”
Book writer, lyricist, and composer Lory Lazarus’ satire of Elvis worship has a number of impressive components in its favor: the book is not one of them. Unfortunately for plays and musicals, that is the glue that binds the entire project together.
Drac Frenzie (Eric Sciotto) has little regard for himself or for any of his groupies who “just want to be near him,” until he receives an epiphany: To spread love and peace around the world, he must embody the spirit of Elvis Presley. Consequently, his throngs of fans will emulate Drac… as Elvis. Prissy Bordeaux (usually played by Ashley Spencer, but played by Laura Woyasz at this performance), is a social media star who falls in love with her idol. Destined to live happily ever after, their plans are thwarted by the Anti-Christ (Jim Borstelmann) and other religious zealots who are convinced that the Elvis philosophy is destructive and evil.
According to program notes, Lazarus was inspired to write the musical based on the fanaticism for “The King of Rock and Roll.” After reading an article about Elvis devotees who take a pilgrimage to Graceland to experience faith healing, Lazarus writes “Whoa. It just got too insane for my senses. I had to write a write a musical.” Certainly, it is rich fodder for humor and reflection. The comedic factor rarely rises to the occasion. Most of the jokes fall flat and elicit reactions ranging between audible groans to internal eye rolls. Lyrically, there are no gems to be found in the songs, either: “Love is blind, so let me be your Seeing Eye dog,” is one of the countless head-scratching examples. If Lazarus intended that his piece be more in the messianic vein of The Who’s Tommy or Jesus Christ, Superstar, he has sacrificed solemnity for silliness. If inspired satire and parody were his goals, he might take notes from the musicals Bat Boy and The Toxic Avenger, which were both replete with clever dialogue, witty lyrics, and even some food for thought.
Regarding production value and talent, there is much to admire. Paul Tate dePoo III has created an effective futuristic set reminiscent of a classic Roger Corman B-movie. Tracy Christenen’s colorful costumes add playful cheer to an otherwise inane story. The same can be said for Travis McHale’s vivid lighting and Shawn Duan’s hypnotic projection designs. Melissa Zaremba has provided some majorly inventive and intricate choreography; where she drew inspiration is a miracle unto itself. I must admit that a handful of the songs are quite catchy thanks to Benjamin Rauhala’s musical direction, arrangement, and orchestrations.
It is obvious that producers Lawrence Rosner and Ryan Conway have spared no expense in their theatrical investment. Neither have they spared seasoned director Don Stephenson and his cast of true professionals the challenge of molding a mansion (Graceland in this case) from a mound of mush. I wasn’t sure which was more embarrassing: having the actors howl or making them sport plastic face masks in the likeness of Elvis. To add further insult, theatergoers were handed their very own cardboard Elvis mask, which they could wear near the end of the overly long two-hour musical. Audience participation? No thanks.
The tag line for Attack of the Elvis Impersonators reads, “The zany musical that leaves you howling for more.” I disagree. Long before intermission, this hound dog reviewer was ready to be euthanized.
Attack of the Elvis Impersonators
Lion Theatre at Theatre Row
410 W 42nd St NYC
Through September 24
Ryan Leeds is a freelance theater journalist who lives in Manhattan. He is the Chief Theater Critic for Manhattan Digest and a frequent contributor to Dramatics Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @Ry_Runner or Facebook.