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Love Me Tender at The Churchill Theatre – Review

Shaun Williamson as Jim and Mica Paris as Sylvia. Photo by Johan Persson
Love Me Tender: Shaun Williamson as Jim and Mica Paris as Sylvia. Photo by Johan Persson

There are days in everybody’s life when what they need is a really good pick-me-up and if today is one of those for you, or if you just fancy a really good night out, then get yourself along to the Churchill Theatre, Bromley for a magical evening seeing ‘Love Me Tender”.

In the mid ‘50s a young motorbike riding, blue suede shoes wearing rocker by the name of Chad (Ben Lewis) has just ridden into a small mid-west American town. Thanks to the actions of its God fearing, lady mayor – Matilda Hyde (Sian Reeves) along with her sidekick, the lugubrious Sheriff Earl (Chris Howell) – everything that could be considered fun is banned and her town is the most boring place on earth. The only bit of enjoyment comes with a drink at the local bar owned by Sylvia (Mica Paris) which she runs with her sweet sixteen year old daughter Lorraine (Aretha Ayen). Regular patrons of Sylvia’s include widower, and local garage owner, Jim (Shaun Williamson), his tomboy mechanic daughter Natalie (Laura Tebbutt) and her best friend, would-be dentist Dennis (Mark Anderson). The arrival of roustabout Chad – tight jeans, leather jacket and greased back hair – is going to have a profound effect on the townspeople including the Mayor’s son Dean (Felix Mosse) and Miss Sandra (Kate Tydman) the curator of the town’s museum and their lives will never be the same again.

Now you may think that a show that is called “Love Me Tender” is going to have some connection with the late, great Elvis Presley, and you would be right. This wonderful production contains twenty five of the best loved songs of The King. Starting with ‘Jailhouse Rock’ and moving through the entire spectrum of Elvis’ work, including ending the first act with a highly emotional rendition of my own particular favourite ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’. Now this leads to the question, do you need to be an Elvis fan to enjoy the show? And the answer is a definite No! “Love Me Tender” is a really great show with a lovely story of secret love, passion and desire that would work well by itself. The addition of Elvis’s music is just an enormous bonus to the tale. The songs have been slotted into the story really well and, on the whole, enhance the narrative rather than distract from it. As an audience member, you are caught up in the whole plot, not just sitting there wondering when the next song will appear and what it will be.

A lot of this is down to the direction. Karen Bruce, who is also the Choreographer, has put together a really good and entertaining show that starts in a county jail – complete with gold toilet – and ends in a small town church, making fantastic use of Morgan Large’s highly versatile set along the way. When it comes to the cast, I have to say that Mica Paris has still got a truly amazing voice that can command the attention of a packed theatre. But it’s not just her voice, there is a definite stage presence there and, let’s be honest, if I had been Sylvia’s daughter I would definitely not have answered her back the way Lorraine did. Shaun Williamson’s Jim is a lovely character displaying all the vulnerability of an older man, tired of being alone, who just doesn’t realise that love is actually closer than he thinks. Of the younger element, it was difficult to pick out a favourite, though my companion really loved Mark Anderson as Dennis and kept telling me he was the best in the show. For me, I think the group of leading actors all worked splendidly together to bring their various characters to life, keeping them believable without making them too over the top. Ben Lewis made Chad a wonderful cross between Elvis himself and The Fonz from ‘Happy Days’ but also showed a really sweet nature to the character – particularly when he fell in love with someone completely unexpected to both himself and the audience at large. With a great singing voice and a really energetic hips movement, I’m sure there were quite a few of the audience swooning over Ben’s performance.

Summing up; “Love Me Tender” is a great evening’s entertainment. The story is just about believable, the songs are truly awesome and the highly enthusiastic and energetic cast really deliver a show that would make a jailhouse rock.
4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Love Me Tender
The new musical featuring the music of Elvis Presley. From the producers of Hairspray, Midnight Tango and West Side Story and comes a hilarious feel-good musical featuring Elvis Presley’s greatest hits and starring the award winning and platinum album selling singer Mica Paris. The high-octane cast also includes: Shaun Williamson (Eastenders, Extras), Ben Lewis (Love Never Dies Australia) and Sian Reeves (Emmerdale, Cutting It).

In a small town in 1950s America, a guitar-playing, hip-swivelling stranger rides his motorbike into town. Is he The Devil in Disguise or a Hound Dog in his Blue Suede Shoes? The townsfolk are about to be All Shook Up and could be headed for Heartbreak Hotel, but for Natalie, the love-struck, tomboy mechanic, it really is Now or Never.

Packed with 25 of the best loved songs by The King himself, Love Me Tender, by the writer of the award-wining West End and Broadway smash hit Memphis, is a funny and moving tale of hope, second chances and the healing qualities of Rock ‘n’ Roll.

Trailer for Love Me Tender – Tour 2015 – ATG Tickets

http://www.atgtickets.com/shows/love-me-tender/the-churchill-theatre-bromley/

Tuesday 1st September 2015

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