Attack of the Elvis Impersonators, at the Lion, has no subtitle, so here’s a helpful suggestion: The Attention Deficit Disorder Musical. Lory Lazarus, who perpetrated book, music, and lyrics, just staggers from premise to premise, seizing on some new plot point and leaving whole subplots behind to die of malnutrition. Some of them contain good ideas. More don’t.
Anyone who’s ever written a musical will tell you of the importance of the right opening number, one that sets the mood and conveys where we’re headed. Attack of the Elvis Impersonators opens with “It Ain’t Heavy Metal (It’s Heavy Bone),” immediately putting its audience in a bad humor and failing to establish the attempted lightheartedness to follow. It’s sung by Drac Frenzie (Eric Sciotto), rock superstar, bigger than Elvis and the Beatles and Michael Jackson combined, we’re told. At first we’re led to believe he’s Mick Jagger–sleazy: guzzling whiskey, chasing tail, rolling his tongue around. But it turns out he’s our hero, and we’re supposed to root for him. When Matt Shadow (Curtis Wiley), a childhood pal with an outrageous afro, returns an Elvis talisman Drac lost years ago, Drac pledges to retire the heavy metal and become an Elvis impersonator—why this counts as reform, who knows? (Sciotto looks great in a white suit, sings well, and displays the requisite swagger; as an Elvis, however, he’s not so hot.) Soon he’s more popular than ever, his fan base revering him with a religious fervor, and he decides he’s God.
There’s more, much more. Along the way Drac falls for Prissy Bordeaux (Laura Woyasz), an online entertainment reporter who adores him. Meantime, Fux News (video projections with Fox Newsy graphics) reports that Europe is being taken over by the Anti-Christ (Jim Borstelmann, who’s very funny and has a good number, “666”). A lady president (this must have been written before last November) tries to enlist Drac to fight him. Drac decides that since God and dog are palindromes, dogs are God’s favorite creatures, and we should worship them. He goes to Hollywood to shoot sequels to Blue Hawaii and Girls! Girls! Girls! A purported religious faction with names like Reverend Sum Young Moo and Rabbi Chaim Silvergoldberg aids the Anti-Christ in his dirty business. Drac buys the state of Tennessee; it secedes and becomes Graceland. Prissy (short for Priscilla, get it?) is kidnapped. Drac somehow ends up in the desert and is rescued by Matt and the Red Cross. Reporters, wearing 1930s hats with press cards in them even though this is 2017, chase everybody around. Drac’s agent, Stan Goldstein (Warren Kelley), is fired when he refuses to accept Drac as a deity, but comes around. The Anti-Christ seeks to reunite Drac with his old band, the Screaming Gallbladders. Miracles happen. That’s not all, but you get the idea.
The cast, directed by Don Stephenson to be broad, broad, broad, shouts a lot, runs up and down the aisle a lot, and changes Tracy Christensen’s unsubtle costumes a lot. They deftly execute Melissa Zaremba’s choreography, which is heavy on the pelvic thrust. And they succeed in not tripping over the many obstacles set designer Paul Tate dePoo III has put in their way. For all their good work, they seem to lack enthusiasm; the skimpy applause after most numbers must be a downer.
Lazarus isn’t untalented: His lyrics are neat and intricately rhymed, and some of the music, notably the Act One finale “Spread the Word of Hound Dog,” is quite catchy. There are also fun parodies of “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Viva Las Vegas,” the latter reconceived as a paean to Drac’s hometown of Milwaukee. But the songs don’t dig deeply into how the characters feel or what they’re thinking—how could they, with this book?
I hope Lazarus tries again, and this time figures out what he’s trying to say before he picks up his pen. His author’s note says he’s captivated by Elvis mania, noting that “Some disciples have Elvis altars in their homes and even trade vials of his sweat. Whoa.” That craziness isn’t clearly conveyed, though, and we’re unsure of the author’s opinion of it—is he satirizing it or endorsing it? In the end, the spirit of Elvis saves the world, and the cast dashes up and down the aisle to hand out Elvis masks, so we can all sing the reprise of “Spread the Word of Hound Dog” while wearing sunglasses and sideburns. Yes, they really are that desperate.
Attack of the Elvis Impersonators runs through September 24 at the Lion Theatre at Theatre Row (410 West 42nd St., between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). Evening performances are at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and Mondays. Matinees are at 2 p.m. Saturdays and 3 p.m. Sundays. To purchase tickets ($79), call (212) 239-6200, or visit www.telecharge.com/Off-Broadway/Attack-of-the-Elvis-Impersonators/Overview.