The first thing you notice about Lee Memphis King is that, metaphorically-speaking, the man has balls. To attempt to emulate Elvis Presley at the height of his career, and lap up the love of the audience in his stead, might be said to be a little presumptuous (if not outright egotistical), and bloomin’ crazy to boot. Perhaps King is a little bit of both, but maybe that’s not a bad thing, because a man would be hard-pushed to pass for a superstar like Elvis without possessing a healthy dash of these qualities himself. They’re what give a star charisma and, tribute or not, this performer has charisma in spades. While this show has been refreshed for 2015/16, it has been touring in some form for ten years, building King quite a reputation in its wake. When Joe Esposito, a lifelong friend of Elvis himself, has said, “When I closed my eyes, I could feel Elvis”, you get an inkling that this performance might be something special.
The second thing you notice about King is that he has a bloody good sense of humour. While his diction in the faster songs is occasionally sacrificed in favour of the impersonation (forgivable in a show that is riding on that impersonation, and where the audience is more than familiar with most of the songs), King is a compelling and bona fide performer in his own right, and this is very much the key to the show’s success. With his Hollywood teeth, a matching smile that always meets his eyes, and a talented set of vocal chords – and hips – King moves and sings like Elvis is in his blood, wringing every ounce of passion from his voice and body, and yet always managing to make the overall effect seem effortless. Some impersonators might have tried to keep this facade up for the whole evening, attempting by brute energy to present to the audience for the whole night as “the real thing”, but Lee Memphis King is cleverer than that.
Oh, he gives a hell of a show – at times there are moments when it is difficult to tell where King stops and The God of Rock and Roll begins, and an uncanny thrill of recognition ripples through the house. He even looks like Elvis, and it doesn’t hurt at all that he can pull off the tight white flares look and come out of it the winner. But he also knows that he is not The King and, while he takes the audience’s enjoyment very seriously, he doesn’t take himself too seriously at all. After a mega-watt opening set, supported as always by his talented and equally hard-working vocalists and band, King deliberately takes to the microphone in his own discordant Yorkshire voice, and gets the audience firmly on his side. Jokes and ad-libs abound, and the energy he creates and effortlessly commands is that of a man who is genuinely enjoying himself very much. It’s hard to imagine the audience of Elvis’ 1968 televised concert (which the first Act of this show purports to re-enact) yelling at him for being a tease, but this dynamic adds to the fun without at all taking away from the thrilling Elvis vibe.
Act Two jumps us forward in time to Vegas in the early 70s, and while the overall sound of the period becomes a little samey here, the stand-out numbers have the audience screaming. Highlights include beautifully clear and velvety renditions of Are You Lonesome Tonight?, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and Always on My Mind. By the close of this Act, the buzz amongst the two thousand folk in the auditorium is palpable, and the standing ovation in the Stalls is very much for King himself, rather than for the man he is here to impersonate. Whilst this is undoubtedly a respectful and fitting tribute show, its audience flocking to it as die-hard fans of Presley, they will leave the performance as firm fans of King. “The Real Thing” indeed.