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Swivel War: Elvis (played by Scot Bruce) put his hips into his performances, and rock & roll was never the same.

Vis-à-Vis Elvis

The king of rock rolls into San Jose in Stage Company's 'Idols of the King'

By Marianne Messina

ARTISTIC DIRECTOR Randall King traveled all the way to a Shakespeare festival in Alabama searching for an Elvis impersonator (Shakespeare and Elvis?) to star in San Jose Stage Company's upcoming musical, Idols of the King (at the California Theatre). After watching L.A.-based Elvis impersonator Scot Bruce perform two nights in a row, King noticed that Bruce had Elvis down to the tiniest gestures—like shrugging his neck free from his collar—yet the performance was different each night. "What a craftsman," King recalls. "He feels that loose with it that nothing's set in stone."

It's likely that part of Bruce's impeccable similitude comes from the fact that he finds the role challenging even after 10 years of playing Elvis. "I still think of it as a work in progress," Bruce muses. "I've studied a lot of, you know, video footage, but I don't really feel that I've mastered it." And Bruce still gets excited when he finds a new Elvisism for his stage persona. "Every time I'm flipping through the channels and I'll see something to do with Elvis or I'll hear it on the radio or I'll see a movie, I'll pay attention to that. So when I see this slightest little subtlety, I go, 'Oh, that's cool. I need to do that.'"

Having played Elvis all over the world, Bruce has had the opportunity to hear from countless people who had real-life experiences with Elvis. "People just have nothing but really kind words to say about Elvis and their encounter," Bruce sums up. "I've met people that, like, say somebody that worked in the mail room at MGM or whatever. And he would treat them with the same respect as he would treat someone who was a director. He treated people with dignity."

Onstage, Bruce even keeps in mind the two-room shack Elvis grew up in, rounding out the Elvis he wants to project as well as the one he thinks writers Allen Crowe and Ronnie Claire Edwards had in mind. "I think, though this is a fictional piece, it's based on some very real ideas about his generosity and his graciousness," Bruce explains. "I think Elvis was grateful for everything that happened."

Detail, background and an extensive internalized library of Elvis mannerisms—these are what Stage Company's King responded to. It's a meticulous realism that counts on audiences to see for themselves how Elvis could have affected so many lives. After all, Idols of the King is a story rooted in the fans. The Crowe/Edwards script has two actors playing 16 Elvis fans en route to a Las Vegas concert after Elvis' death (1977). "We get to know these characters and they're pretty colorful characters, pretty extreme Elvis fans," Bruce says. "There'll be a scene and then some rock & roll, and then there'll be another scene and then some more rock & roll" (including all the favorite tunes, from rockabilly to gospel to movie tunes).

Bruce has seen many sets of actors covering the fan roles, and he notes that performances can range from wildly funny caricature to seriously subtle study. But the lines are largely comedic. Meanwhile, Bruce's Elvis along with his current Nashville-based band hold down an unwavering core. "Our aspect is the musical aspect," he explains. "We try to deliver Elvis in an honest way, and we're sort of the straight man of the story." He feels that the madcap fans and the "straight man" Elvis serve complementary functions and give the musical a nice balance. With luck, this means that those whose understanding of Elvis has suffered from an overexposure to die-hard Elvis fans might be in for some interesting revelations and a fresh take.

Idols of the King, a San Jose Stage Company musical, previews July 13-14 at 7:30pm and opens July 15 at 8pm at the California Theatre, 345 S. First St., San Jose. Regular shows are Wednesday-Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday-Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm (July 17 and 24) and Sunday at 7:30pm (July 31) through July 31. July 16 is the gala opening. Tickets are $25-$60. (408.283.7142)

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From the July 13-19, 2005 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2005 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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