I have to admit I’m not a big fan of Elvis Presley although a few years ago my wife and I renewed our wedding vows in front of an Elvis impersonator at the Graceland Wedding Chapel in Las Vegas – but that’s another story! However, he did record some superb songs and the chance of hearing them played by a big symphony orchestra in the magnificent Cadogan Hall seemed like something not to be missed. However, what I didn’t realise was that The King Symphonic is what seems like a vanity project for singer/ producer/owner/entrepreneur Shea Arender and the thirty-plus musicians that made up the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra seemed to come not from Las Vegas but more likely Lewisham, Lambeth and Loughton and we weren’t in for an evening of symphonic Elvis but someone singing Elvis’s best-known songs backed by a symphony orchestra.
After the orchestra played Elvis’s entrance music, Richard Strauss’s “Also sprach Zarathustra”, Arender took the stage and told us that he was a big Elvis fan and the show was going to be a tribute to Elvis rather than an impersonation and then proceeded to do a bad impersonation of a second-rate Elvis impersonator! He said the show would be a journey through Presley’s life not always in chronological order starting with “That’s Alright Mama”, “Love Me Tender”, “Heartbreak Hotel” and “Blue Suede Shoes”, interspersing the songs with some sketchy information about when they were recorded. These were followed by some more of Elvis’s early songs such as “Are You Lonesome Tonight”, “It’s Now Or Never” and “Hound Dog” and a fifties medley of “Teddy Bear”, Don’t Be Cruel” and “Jailhouse Rock”. Arender strutted around the stage gyrating his hips a la Presley and even came down into the audience to meet his fans.
After the interval, the first song “Viva Las Vegas” was superbly sung by one of Arender’s nameless backing singers who showed all the charisma and stage presence Arender lacked but unfortunately it was for just that one song. Arender had changed into a glittery, lurex “custom made jacket” – unfortunately, it looked custom made for someone two sizes smaller than Arender. We were now into Elvis in Las Vegas territory and all the schlocky tunes were brought out such as “In The Ghetto”, “The Wonder Of You” and a massacred “You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me” – Dusty Springfield must have spinning in her grave. Arender even sang “American Trilogy” which starts off “Oh I wish I were in the land of cotton, old things they are not forgotten” and is a theme song of the American right – not really appropriate for Chelsea in 2022.
Unfortunately, Arender doesn’t have a great voice although at times it is drowned out by the superb orchestra which could be seen by some as a relief. There was one oasis of calm during the second half when Arender left the stage and the orchestra played a tune from one of Presley’s many movies and showed what might have been if it had been an evening of symphonic Elvis.
Having said all that, I left the auditorium with the majority of the audience on their feet singing and dancing along as Arender sang “Suspicious Mind” and having a great time so it just goes to show that you can please some of the people some of the time – just not me.
Review by Alan Fitter
Shea Arender and the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra in a symphonic celebration of the music of Elvis Presley!
A southern American native, Shea performs and narrates Elvis’ life in music, including the Vegas years, the movie years and the many hits in between!
The music will inspire you and Elvis’ story told through Shea will touch your heart as you sit back and enjoy unique symphonic arrangements of unforgettable songs, including ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love’, ‘Suspicious Minds’, ‘It’s Now or Never’, ‘You Gave Me a Mountain’, ‘Don’t Be Cruel/Teddy Bear’, ‘Love Me Tender’ and ‘Blue Suede Shoes’.
In its UK debut, the Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra is joined by its principal guest conductor Toby Cruse in this super-charged journey of musical power!
Las Vegas Symphony Orchestra
Shea Arender voice
Toby Cruse conductor
Friday 17th June 2022
Duration: approx. 2 hours (incl. interval)