LA Review: 'The King'

Staged Cinema Productions at Maverick Theater

Reviewed by Eric Marchese

July 31, 2012


The premise of writer-director Brian Newell's comedy-fantasy "The King" is ingenious, and it's what Newell does to develop it that supplies the satisfying foundation of the 2002 play. Suppose that when the death of Elvis Presley was announced in August 1977, the then "king of rock 'n' roll" had actually secretly gone into a cryogenic freeze? If thawed out 35 years later, how would he regard the world—and how would the world react to him? Any number of approaches could have been taken to depict this "What if?" story. Newell's take involves Elvis, calling himself "Aron King" (due to a court order), trying to prove that he is the Elvis Presley while vultures swoop down to exploit the former superstar as he struggles to understand DNA testing, smartphones, YouTube, and infomercials.

As Aron/Elvis, Frank Tryon lacks the superstar's gravitas and charisma, and while the relaxed drawl, huge muttonchops, and prominent beer gut are a good start, Tryon and Newell need to inject darker elements. Both actor and character are immensely likable, and flashes of humility, gratitude, and sadness shine through Tryon's portrayal. Elvis' martial-arts beat-downs of obnoxious bullies and showoffs are a real kick, pumping the staging with vitality. This Elvis grows on you, and his one-man-against-the-world integrity is greatly appealing.

Elvis' personal arc serves as the story's plot line, and the characters surrounding him are functions of that plot rather than believable people. While some of the cast members' performances help keep the show afloat, R.C. Sands, Rob Downs, and Natalie Beisner struggle with the ill-defined main roles of sleazy promoter Vic Vegas, Chet Parker (Colonel Tom Parker's nephew), and Chet's wife, Gwen. "The King" works best when it hands its performers a mic, then steps back. That applies to Tryon and to the girl-group trio of Amber Jourñae, Angela Griswold, and Wendy Karn.

Newell's elaborate moving- and still-photo videos allow instant scene changes—everything from a cramped garage to the lush Hawaiian surf—and add realism through Photoshopped headlines from major news publications. Created by Curtis Jerome and Heidi Newell, the singer's various jumpsuits, one hilariously and crassly adorned with fast-food logos, give this Elvis the bloated look he sported in his waning days. Most pleasing is how Newell has avoided making the show a simple jukebox musical of Presley hits. The offstage band members—led by Floyd Bland—give the brief musical numbers guts, while black-clad singer Casey Ryan, billed as '68 Comeback Elvis, uses his rumbling bass to power a slew of the singer's hits.

Everything about "The King" is amiable; it sidesteps dealing with media frenzies and the uglier manifestations of our celebrity culture. What's left is enjoyable fluff with a shocker of a climax that no one will see coming.

Presented by Staged Cinema Productions at Maverick Theater, 110 E. Walnut Ave., Ste. B, Fullerton. July 20–Sept. 15. Fri. and Sat., 8 p.m.; Sun., 6 p.m. (714) 526-7070 or www.mavericktheater.com.
 

 
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