REVIEW: Love Me Tender – The Playhouse, Edinburgh

This seemingly ‘new’ musical is actually a decade old, starting life on Broadway in 2005 as All Shook Up, it has been freshened up by director and choreographer Karen Bruce and is now touring the UK prior to a hopeful West End transfer as Love Me Tender.

The story is a familiar one, indeed it takes as its unlikely inspiration Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night: charismatic drifter Chad moseys into a one-horse town where the downtrodden locals are under the control of the zealous mayor who has enforced the Mamie Eisenhower Decency Act “no loud music, no public necking and no tight pants” with a guitar on his hip and mischief in mind. Cue love at first sight, cross-dressing, mistaken identity and general mayhem.

Unashamedly cashing in on the eternal popularity of the music of Elvis Presley, the 25 songs are either cleverly or wittily inserted into the script, indeed central to it’s success is the fact that it whole endeavour doesn’t take itself seriously at all, the knowingly silly but witty book moves along at a fair pace  and manages to keep the interest levels high throughout. There are also a raft of witty visual gags to look out for. However, the sheer volume of music leaves little room for complex dialogue or fully developed characterisations. Another gripe is the fact that the rough rock ‘n’ roll edges have been well and truly smoothed off the songs which have all been given a musical theatre gloss over, indeed some of the arrangements are so far removed from the originals that they are rendered almost unrecognisable.

The sheer good natured fun of it all more than makes up for any gripes though, and the cast are universally top-notch: Ben Lewis as Chad has his tongue planted firmly in his cheek throughout and has a good stab at some of The King’s greatest hits, needless to say Mica Paris impresses as bar owner Sylvia and the ever-reliable and loveable Shaun Williamson provides the lion’s share of the evening’s laughs. There’s strong support too, in particular from Mark Anderson as nerdy Dennis and a fine-voiced Aretha Ayeh as Sylvia’s feisty daughter Lorraine and poor Laura Tebbutt deserves a medal for enduring the least flattering costume ever as the cross-dressing Natalie/Ed.

Shakespeare it isn’t but it is hugely entertaining, silly, escapist fun. If it’s a good-natured pick-me-up you’re looking for then look no further.

4 ****

Runs until Saturday 25 July 2015, visiting Glasgow King’s Theatre from 3 – 8 August 2015