The Elvis Dead
Leicester Comedy Festival, February 2017
On a cold Sunday night in an otherwise-deserted corner of the city a packed audience formed one of the most vociferous and appreciative crowds witnessed at this year’s Leicester Comedy Festival. Wolverhampton comedian Rob Kemp debuted his new show “The Elvis Dead” to a thunderous reception, an ecstatic crowd and two standing ovations. Without the more usual string of dates to build confidence and reputation but playing just two performances across the three week festival he was still able to garner enough support to leave no one in any doubt that what he has created here could be nothing short of a phenomenon.
Invoking the spirit of the ultimate tribute act combined with deranged superfan, Kemp’s show undertakes to re-tell the gory story of Sam Raimi’s cult classic 1987 horror movie Evil Dead II using only his cleverly re-written Elvis Presley classics, sung in the style of Elvis himself. It is not the sort of show format a traditional, or even sane, person would want to put together, but what must have at so many times seemed to him and those around him as a crazy idea has been transformed into a superb piece of comedic, musical theatre which taps brilliantly into the prevalent cultural stream of musical imitation, but through it’s subject matter renders it as distant as possible from the blandness of X-Factor TV.
The strength of the show was not just in the creation but also the execution. Not just the tight lighting and dry ice production, there were expertly edited movie clips and soundbites, visual effects, hilarious comic acting and also vital to the finished article – Kemp’s own excellent singing voice-slash-Elvis impression, complete with the obligatory lip-curl. It wasn’t a perfect performance – he forgot the words to his songs, hit a dodgy note or sang the wrong line on more than a handful of occasions, but his total control of the stage and audience ensured that most people didn’t notice and those that did were too busy laughing to care. He also made the schoolboy error of acting out some sections of the show on the floor of the stage which meant only the first few rows could get the full effect, but even this didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of those in the rear seats, not one of whom complained or rocked the boat but rather seemed grateful to have got a seat at this sold-out show at all.
There can be little doubt that this will become a success for Kemp, hopefully financially for him as well as by way of building his career. It is hard though to see it as more than a very solid stepping-stone to greater things. While he will certainly be able to tour this fairly easily it would be difficult to build the same crowd hysteria in doing anything less than the full hour show which renders guest appearances on things like TV shows or variety theatre probably too difficult to facilitate. The possibilities for merchandising are excellent (assuming everything is squared away with Raimi and the Presley machine), and he has hit the comedian’s jackpot of discovering new material that a broad-based crowd will want to see and hear over and over again.
One thing is certain, last night’s crowd will be falling over themselves today to spread the word around the workplaces, coffee-shops and pubs of Leicester and further afield. Rob Kemp is undoubtedly ready for the world, let us hope the world is ready for him.