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In its one act, Don't Be Cruel: The Life and Times of the King is approximately sixty minutes biography set to music, fifteen minutes tribute concert. This multimedia play at Andiamo Novi stars Max Pellicano as Elvis Presley, narrating his own life and singing songs to fit the story. Ironically, it's only after arriving at Elvis's death that Pellicano comes to life in a joyous coda that surges with energy and fun.

Appearing alone on a narrow strip of stage, the character barely ripples the surface of Elvis's well-known and sometimes troubled life, treating events like his mama's death (sad) and meeting his future wife (happy) as though they were revelatory. Other shocking developments include: Elvis bought Graceland, and Elvis had a drug habit. The production gets plenty of support from backstage in the form of a live band and two performers whose silhouettes and voices stand in for many of Elvis's family, friends, and collaborators. Falling short of rock 'n' roll's raw power, the onstage stillness in which the man of the hour must recollect things the audience already knows feels like Walk the Line by way of Disney's Hall of Presidents.

The success of the show is tied up with Pellicano's performance, and he is obviously comfortable as Elvis. He handles the storytelling well enough, although the visual disconnect between him and his faceless scene partners served to hurt the overall timing and doomed most of the jokes. As a singer, Pellicano knows his strengths, and spends as much time as possible with his best notes and most accomplished inflection (the uh-huh-huh Elvis). When the show calls for a gospel song or a number with more high notes, the imitation becomes only slightly more evident; for the most part, it's a strong comparison.

Faced with a noisy, flawed performance space, the production's audio goes all-out, perhaps even too far, giving the audience a keen familiarity with Pellicano's sinus. The play's multimedia aspect features overhead video of a few early television performances and, later, a long montage of everything else that was going on in the '60s to cover a costume change (fans of Jumpsuit Elvis will not be disappointed). Mostly, though, the projector spits out endless misty watercolored footage of Priscilla, to which Elvis sings directly when they meet, marry, procreate, separate, and divorce.

The growing, nagging sense that something is missing falls into place with the final minutes of the show, when that something shows up in force. Elvis ruminates on his death, wraps things up, and the curtain opens to reveal the heretofore hidden band and backup performers. And it just unfurls: the complete satisfaction of performing, the pure excitement of making music together. Pellicano boldly disperses scarves and kisses into the audience, ad libbing all the way, reducing grown women to shrieking fans with smooth machismo. It may be no more than an extended curtain call, but the magnetism of this sudden concert called to mind why Elvis is still beloved more than anything preceding it. Although Don't Be Cruel is probably a sure thing for Elvis fans, it's the whirlwind finale that will let even the casual viewer leave satisfied.


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