Theatre Review: Underwhelmed By The King, Or Below The Belt

February 23, 2015



The opening night of the Elvis The Show, With Nathan Belt was … eventful. The good news: Belt has an incredible voice. The bad news: I didn’t feel like I got what I came for.

The show started off slow, with the full-house crowd providing electric energy that would get any performer amped. But Elvis-for-the-night Nathan Belt stood stiffly behind a mic stand and sang Elvis songs. I was more entertained by the dancers and how in-sync they were, and the drummer’s tattoos, and the piano player wearing sunglasses indoors.

Then the stage separated. The bottom half came up and the set was rejuvenated. A Fifties aura was created on stage and it brought life to the entire theatre. Elvis walked through the crowd, laughed a bit and gave some ladies kisses on the cheek and it finally felt like we were about to have a show. Then the band performed a small acoustic set with Belt on vocals – by far the best period of the entire show.

Speaking about Belt laughing – for a second, I thought it was unprofessional. But then I realised that this is what live theatre is. This is where its appeal lies. It’s live. Its a lot like sports – the referee or umpire or coach or whoever makes a decision, then technology reveals it was the wrong decision, but that decision remains a talking point for many conversations to come. It’s the culture of the game – the fact that so much ultimately lies in one person’s ability to be “professional” and take out the human aspect that is making a mistake. I enjoyed when Belt accidentally cracked up laughing, or coughed a little here and there. That, coupled with his striking resemblance to Elvis, made it feel as if the King had never left the building after all.

What I didn’t enjoy, though, was the majority of the second period. The first song after the interval started with Belt missing his cue, and it was downhill from there. At one point, there was a line of women standing in front of him asking for a scarf and a kiss on the cheek (during his set). Meanwhile, on the left hand side, an elderly man was being chased off the stage because he decided to steal the show while Elvis’ attention was occupied. It was all very karaoke and brought the entire integrity of the show down a notch. This is the “decision” referred to earlier – the decision that will be the talking point for conversations to come. Belt said, at one point, “If you want a hug and a kiss you come on up here and get it.” And that’s what happened.

The fact that he was continually leading the band via hand signals and turning to look at them to lead them and the back-up singers also made the second half feel incredibly unprepared. It felt like a final sound check, not opening night at a sold-out Joburg Theatre – and for a returning show no less. Giles’ the piano player’s wife (a woman dancing in the crowd – nobody was sure whether she was part of the cast or what was going on) probably stole the show. Everybody will be talking about Giles’ wife; it was that sort of night.

An entertaining show, but an odd evening.