Elvis Presley, one of the iconic cultural figures in the 20th century, might be dead, but the spirit of the ‘King of Rock and Roll’ is alive in admiration and reverence with The Little Theatre of Alexandria’s latest production, All the King’s Women. Directed by Ellen Dempsey, All the King’s Women is a play that affects the senses – heart, mind, and soul. One doesn’t have to be an Elvis fan going in, to walk away with a deep appreciation for ‘The King’ at the conclusion.
Playwright Luigi Januzzi has written an eight-scene colorful play consisting of five vignettes and three monologues. Elvis Presley is the subject of interest, but the scenes are about the impact of the lives and the culture he affected, and how society deals with celebrity. Dempsey has created a production with arousing characters that are distinct and vividly brought to life by humor and emotional revelations by the four cast members.
What’s most enjoyable, in addition to the humorous, winning performances from the accented actors playing multiple roles, are the nuggets of true information learned about Elvis Presley the person, not the celebrity. “The play is a great salute to all the good he did and the great influence he had on so many artists,” says Dempsey in the program. “This is a man who revolutionized pop culture and music in 42 years.”
From the opening scene, the mood is set with powerful, storytelling music selections. We hear “That’s Alright Momma” opening the play in Tupelo, Mississippi, where a saleswoman expertly played by Sarah Holt in a rousing monologue, encounters Elvis Presley celebrating his 11th birthday in the store to pick out a birthday present. Elvis wants to buy a 22 rifle as his gift. After using her best sales pitch, and a meeting of the minds with his mother, the Tupelo saleswoman persuades him to instead buy his first guitar. And the rest, as they say is history…
This hard working cast successfully creates likeable characters that connect with the emotional sensitivities that resonate with the audience. All the King’s Women is a play that is often performed with all female characters. Dempsey chose to have three females and one male to illustrate the 17 different characters called for in the play. “Yes, it is All the King’s Women, but there are men involved too,” she said. “Both men and women alike loved Elvis and I wanted to show that. I also just felt some of the scenes rang more true with a male in the cast.” Yet, it is the standout scenes with the female characters that highlight the production.
The two transforming monologues performed by Sarah Holt are shining, expressive examples of excellent character work meeting natural comedic talent. Together, in three energized scenes, the female characters are luminescent.
Perhaps the best example of this is Scene 5 – When Nixon Met Elvis, a crowd-pleasing sketch where the strength of all three actresses’ individual acting styles and their skilled, comedic timing are on display. It’s 1970, two Nixon secretaries, played by Jennifer Finch (Cathy) and Sarah Holt (Beth), and a White House phone operator played by Robin Parker (Alice) are enthusiastic, with fawning admiration over a visitor at the White House NW gate who leaves a letter claiming to be Elvis Presley, and who wants to become a federal agent to “help out the country.” (True story).
All the designing aspects of the production are highlighted with this scene. The wigs and makeup (Hannah Wolf and Robin Parker) and wardrobe (Rebecca Fischler) effectively set the tone with the perfectly detailed looks and feel of 1970. The sound effects and lighting designed by Ken and Patti Crowley – playfully bounce back and forth in unison – from one ringing phone to an actress answering the call, to another ringing phone and an actress juggling a call back and forth among the three – in a three way phone conversation.
Ellen Dempsey’s decision to incorporate multi-media, Jon Roberts’ construction of Elvis images and archival highlights over the decades, packaged with radio voice-over (Bill Gordon) cultural descriptions of landmark events – all make major contributions to the production. Sound Designer David Correia intuitively selected songs from Elvis’ versatile catalog encompassing many genres – rockabilly, rock and roll, country, blues, gospel and pop – all heard as musical scene transitions throughout the 90 minute show. Dan Remmer’s minimal set, with only a few props varying from scene to scene, places the audience’s focus on the acting and the stories.
All the King’s Women loses some steam at the end, as the frenetic tempo slows with the final monologue and closing scene. Not having the energy and interaction of the female leads in the final encounter, I felt slightly disappointed.
Actress, Robin Parker, returning to the stage after a 15 year absence, has a new respect for Elvis since joining the play – culminating in a trip to Graceland, Memorial Day weekend during the rehearsal period. “With this play, Elvis has gotten under my skin,” Parker said, “I’ve learned so many interesting things about him. I’m a fan now.”
Running Time: Approximately 90 minutes, with no intermission.
All the King’s Women plays through June 30, 2012, at The Little Theater of Alexandria – 600 Wolfe Street, in Alexandria, VA. For tickets, call the box office (703) 683-0496, or purchase them online. You can also purchase them at the door.