This is Elvis – Viva Las Vegas!
Simon returned to the role of Elvis in this production, which began at the Theatre Royal in Windsor on 24 January 2006 before touring nationwide. It was an Elvis musical, again produced by Bill Kenwright, but this time co-producing with Laurie Mansfield and with a book by Philip Norman. It was a completely different show from the Alan Bleasdale play and dealt with just one period of Elvis’s life.
It was the first time any performance of Elvis’s music on stage had ever been endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises and so it was free to use all his best music and it featured over 30 of his greatest hits. It was, in fact, the first ‘book’ musical ever written about Elvis and it was decidedly not just a tribute show. It captured the story of a very challenging period of Elvis’s life and career, charting his journey back to stardom. It was interspersed with key moments that led up to the spectacular 1968 TV special on NBC, which was shown in the first half of the show, while the second half showed his momentous return to the stage in the Las Vegas concert of 1969.
The musical dramatised the arguments between Presley and his manager, Colonel Tom Parker, his increasing distance from his wife, Priscilla, and rehearsal sessions with his new musicians as he confronted his fear of performing after so long away from live work:
Simon: Elvis was making a comeback after 29 movies and the show dealt with that, as well as with the 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. He was confused and frightened – because he had lost his mother at that time – and he was petrified of going back on stage. And there was also his new image – the white jumpsuits – which was something really different for him and he didn’t know if he would be accepted. It was a role I could really get my teeth into from an acting point of view.
And I was singing versions of his records, from the newer to the later recordings, so the voice changed 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 a recording of ‘It’s Now or Never’ they recognise it and all its nuances, so I put those into the song in the show. Basically I adapted my voice for each song. You have to get all the movements and mannerisms right and there were die hard fans out there who knew what they wanted to see and listen to.
This was definitely a feel good musical and Simon received rave reviews for his performance:
‘It is asking the impossible to find any artist who can look like, sound like and perform like Elvis Presley but Simon Bowman, who plays the King in this new rock’n’roll musical, scores two out of three. He may not look exactly like Presley, yet in every other way he is a triumphant clone. And I say so as someone who saw Elvis live in concert at the Las Vegas hotel which is at the heart of the action. Whether wearing skin-tight black leather or the celebrated fringed white suit Bowman spends the night with non-stop pelvic thrusts, legs a-trembling and arms that punch more than a heavyweight champ. The demands of the part while singing, virtually continuously, 33 of Presley’s hits involve a frightening display of vocal strain and energy. The audience knew it too, and rose like one after ‘The American Trilogy’ and stood waving, clapping and swaying.’ (James Green, The Stage)
‘The part of Elvis is played with such sensitivity throughout the first half and with such energy and vigour during the second, that it is quite possible to believe that one has been transported back in time … Bowman is fantastic. The longer the show progressed he had the audience eating out of his hand as though he were a real second coming … the show sparkled from first to last like so many rhinestones caught in a laser beam of talent.’ (Chris High, Online)
‘Simon Bowman’s Elvis easily exceeds expectations. His is a King with more than the requisite amount of fire in his belly and the power of a steam whistle in his lungs. As Bowman’s sexily incendiary shuddering reaches a crescendo his voice has the gusto of an operatic tenor and a passionate, honking vibrato. (Luke Clancy, The Loy)
‘My hands were shaking and my knees were weak after Monday night’s fantastic show. Elvis lives on in Simon Bowman … He left me speechless on the night, singing hit after hit for several hours, not just capturing the special timbre of Elvis’ voice but also his speaking voice and his mannerisms … Simon Bowman was truly the star, giving 120 per cent for well over two hours. The King is dead. Long live the King!’ (Jackie Foottit, Hull Daily Mail)
After such a successful tour there are hopes that This is Elvis will be brought into the West End.