Elvis: The Experience Just a Hunka-Hunka Lukewarm Love

Photo by Steve Spatafore/Las Vegas News Bureau

Photo by Steve Spatafore/Las Vegas News Bureau

Not to be cruel—surely everyone involved has a heart that’s true—but this show is a dog, hound or otherwise.

Given that I never saw the dynamic Elvis live onstage, I have to believe what we get at Westgate Las Vegas’ Elvis: The Experience—the performance component that bookends the museum-style Elvis: The Exhibition—is to the legend what house slippers are to blue suede shoes.

Set for a five-week run, this production at the Elvis Presley Theater (the ex-LVH Theater) is the first of a planned series of Elvis tributes, with the blessing of the Presley estate and Priscilla Presley. Designed as a re-creation of an Elvis concert circa the early ’70s, it plays similar to Bob Anderson’s Frank Sinatra interpretation at the Palazzo but minus that show’s creative thematic segments—or celebratory joy.

Impersonator Martin Fontaine is Elvis in period-appropriate white jumpsuit and cape—backed by an orchestra and aided by R&B background singers—singing hit after hit to increasingly numbing effect.

Energy isn’t lacking—Fontaine bristles with it—but energy doesn’t automatically translate into charisma, and Fontaine leaves a personality black hole in his wake. Enormous Elvis love in the room only carries him through the first few tunes (“C.C. Rider,” “Welcome to My World,” “The Wonder of You”) before Fontaine attempts to schmooze the audience with disastrous results. Mumbly, unfunny and charmless, Fontaine torpedoes his rapport with the audience and never recovers.

This Elvis never seems happy to be back in the building. He doesn’t give us much reason to be happy, either.

As a song interpreter, Fontaine can’t be faulted. Timeless Elvis classics such as “Burning Love,” “Teddy Bear,” “Love Me Tender,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Suspicious Minds,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love With You,” among others, are rendered in sturdy Elvis style. Not to mention the elaborate—and overdone—karate kicks with which Elvis punctuated song climaxes.

Occasionally, Fontaine rises a bit above the mundane tone he’s set, but it takes tunes such as “My Way” and “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” both nearly impossible to perform without rousing theatrics. Once Fontaine had exited before the inevitable encore at a recent show, the relatively subdued applause made me wish he’d remained backstage to avoid the awkwardness of returning to a crowd that wasn’t clamoring for him. He didn’t.

Between its hit-checklist mentality and Fontaine’s cipher-like interpretation, Elvis: The Experience feels hollow and perfunctory. Or … are we living in an Elvis House of Mirrors, where everything about The King is so distorted now—such a Presley caricature—that we can’t tell or even appreciate what he actually was?

Not only did Elvis impersonation long ago become an industry, but also an easy joke and even code for “kooks.” No other dead pop-culture icons—not Sinatra, Michael Jackson, Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr. or Dean Martin—inspire such slavish silliness.

Whatever the reason—and by whichever standard it’s judged—Elvis: The Experience had me leaving the hotel with a touch of heartbreak.

Got an entertainment tip? Email Steve.Bornfeld@VegasSeven.com.

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