CONCERT REVIEW: ‘Elvis Lives’ was triple dose of history and ‘Heartbreak’ in Wilkes-Barre
What could be better than one award-winning Elvis tribute artist performing the timeless music of Elvis Presley in concert? How about three of them?!
“Elvis Lives: The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Event,” a highly entertaining and reverential recreation of some of the King’s most famous moments, made a stop at the F.M. Kirby Center for the Performing Arts in Wilkes-Barre on Wednesday, Feb. 1, bringing with it three of the best ETAs in the business. All three – Dean Z (who handled the early years and the 1968 “Comeback Special”), Jay Dupuis (the movie years), and Billy Cherry (the concert years) – were crowned the “Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist” by Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis, Tennessee in recent years.
The multimedia show got underway with photos of the real Elvis Aaron Presley (1935-1977) filling a big screen as highlights of his early years were narrated in his own voice. Then, double bassist (and the show’s music director) Brahm Sheray and drummer Eli Hludzik helped Dean Z flawlessly perform the first single on Sam Phillips’ Sun Records label, 1954’s “That’s All Right,” with the B-side “Blue Moon of Kentucky.”
After the videos told the audience about Presley’s early TV performances in 1956 after he signed with manager Colonel Tom Parker and RCA Records, Dean Z, the 2013 winner of the annual contest, burst back on stage in the famous gold lame jacket to do “Shake, Rattle and Roll” and “Heartbreak Hotel,” Presley’s first RCA release.
Dean Z also did two of Presley’s gospel favorites – “(There Will Be) Peace in the Valley (For Me)” and “Crying in the Chapel” – before turning the stage over to the 2014 winner, Dupuis, who took the crowd on a trip to Hollywood for some of Elvis’ most memorable movie music, starting with 1962’s “Return to Sender” from “Girls! Girls! Girls!”
Dupuis, whose set included many songs not normally performed by ETAs, followed up with 1963’s non-movie hit “(You’re the) Devil in Disguise” and that same year’s “Bossa Nova Baby” from “Fun in Acapulco.” He then did a slew of songs from 1964’s “Viva Las Vegas” with the help of Carol Maccri, who did a fine job as the sultry Ann-Margret.
Following the intermission, Dean Z was back, this time clad in leather, to recreate the 1968 TV special, which has come to be known as the “’68 Comeback Special” (it was simply called “Elvis”).
With the screen flashing “E-L-V-I-S” in large, red letters, Dean Z began with “Trouble,” then moved quickly to the medley of “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Hound Dog,” and “All Shook Up.” The group then recreated the sit-down jam session segment, starting with “Baby What You Want Me to Do.”
Dean Z then took requests from the crowd. When someone shouted out “Suspicious Minds,” he cleverly quipped, “That song came out in 1969 and it’s only 1968 right now, so I have no idea what you are talking about.”
He then did a gorgeous version of the relatively obscure “Fame and Fortune” (originally the B-side of the 1960 single “Stuck on You”), saying he never performed it previously and thanking the requester for picking such a “great, great song.”
After the video screens reminded the crowd of the news of 1968, Dean Z reemerged in the special’s white suit to sing the still relevant “If I Can Dream,” a song that directly quotes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., that was used as the TV show’s grand finale.
Cherry, the 2009 winner, then took the stage in the famous white “American Eagle” jumpsuit to bring back memories of Elvis’ concert years (1969 to 1977). His segment began with the first two songs from 1973’s “Aloha from Hawaii via Satellite” concert, “See See Rider” and “Burning Love.” He then did a version of Marty Robbins’ “You Gave Me a Mountain” from that same concert, before hitting a homerun with a great rendition of “Kentucky Rain.”
After hitting it out of the park again with the strobe-light enhanced “Suspicious Minds,” Cherry donned the “Eagle” cape for a truncated but still phenomenal version of “An American Trilogy.”
Although the real Elvis Presley never did an encore, “Elvis Lives” had an outstanding one as all three performers sang the traditional Elvis concert closer “Can’t Help Falling in Love” together, bringing the crowd to its feet and the show to a spectacular conclusion.