New Elvis musical promises to leave Sunderland audiences all shook up

LOVE ME TENDER,                         , Director and Choreographer - Karen Bruce, Set design - Morgan Large, Costume design - Vicky Gill, Lighting - James Whiteside, Manchester Opera House, Manchester ,2015,  Credit: Johan Persson/
LOVE ME TENDER, , Director and Choreographer - Karen Bruce, Set design - Morgan Large, Costume design - Vicky Gill, Lighting - James Whiteside, Manchester Opera House, Manchester ,2015, Credit: Johan Persson/

This week saw the opening of a new musical, which will be hip-swivelling its way to Sunderland next month. Katy Wheeler went along to rehearsals to see what audiences can expect.

His music may be the most recognisable back catalogue in the world, but few have dared to tread on the blue suede shoes of Elvis’ tunes.

LOVE ME TENDER,                         , Director and Choreographer - Karen Bruce, Set design - Morgan Large, Costume design - Vicky Gill, Lighting - James Whiteside, Manchester Opera House, Manchester ,2015,  Credit: Johan Persson/

LOVE ME TENDER, , Director and Choreographer - Karen Bruce, Set design - Morgan Large, Costume design - Vicky Gill, Lighting - James Whiteside, Manchester Opera House, Manchester ,2015, Credit: Johan Persson/

Musical Love Me Tender is inter-weaving the tracks with a new plot fleshed out by the powerhouse vocal talents of Mica Paris and the acting chops of Shaun Williamson.

The scene is set in a small town in 1950s America when a tall, dark and handsome guitar-playing stranger rides his motorbike into town and gets the residents all shook up.

Mica, whose hits include My One Temptation, says the role of Sylvia was one she couldn’t turn down.

“I haven’t done a musical in 21 years,” she said. “I never wanted to be an actress, I think I’ve always had a fear of trying to be that. When I sing gospel I’m playing myself.

“But what I loved about Sylvia is that she’s me, it’s like the guy knew me when he wrote the script. The only difference is the accent, so I spoke to Chaka Khan who gave me tips on talking in an American accent. But I’m just me, I can’t be anyone else.

“Then you have the script which is great. It’s set in the ’50s, which is a time of segregation. But Sylvia has a bar and in a bar it doesn’t matter if you’re black or white. Then this dude comes along and injects some fun into town and everyone falls in love. It’s a powerful story. It shows that even if the world we live in is crap, that love conquers all.

“It’s got lovely dialogue. Then, on top of that, you have Elvis’s music.”

Twenty five of Elvis’s hits, to be precise, including Heartbreak Hotel, Devil in Disguise, Hound Dog and more feature in this re-worked version of Broadway show All Shook Up.

Mica’s career has seen her release a platinum-selling album, appear in the West End in The Vagina Monologues and Sweet Lorraine, as well as being a special guest for performers including Prince, Michael Bolton, Dionne Warwick and Jools Holland.

But the singer says it’s this production which has really got her mum excited.

“I was seven when Elvis died and I remember my mum crying her eyes out, she was really torn up about it,” she recalls. “In the past 27 years of my career, all the things I’ve done, and when I called her up to tell her about this she was like ‘oh Mica I’m so proud.’

“She says he was beautiful, but the thing about Elvis is that he was still a man’s man. He had the ability to make women melt just by standing there. That’s called magnetism, and he had it in bucket loads. Then he had these beautiful songs. That appeal never goes away.”

Former EastEnders actor Shaun Williamson plays Jim.

“I’m astonished there hasn’t been a musical like this before,” said the actor, who since leaving the soap has appeared on stage in Saturday Night Fever and Guys and Dolls.

“I am a big time fan of Elvis. Everyone was laughing when we had the first read through as I knew every line, even the lesser-known songs. I had the box set of 10 albums.

“I’m also a big fan of Karen Bruce (the show’s choreographer). I worked with her on my first job out of EastEnders, which was Saturday Night Fever, she really puts the dancers through it.

“I was a bit nervous about taking on a musical with Elvis tracks, but once we got into rehearsals I started to relax because you can see the talent and the script is so strong. It’s funny and sad. Often in musicals the plot can be an after-thought, but it’s a lovely story.”

•Love Me Tender is at Sunderland Empire from July 13-18. Tickets from 0844 871 3022.