If there's one thing Central Kentucky theaters know, it's how to play to their strengths. Whether a theater has been around for decades, like the Lexington Children's Theatre, or is starting new, like ProjectSEE, each has succeeded at carving out a niche without being formulaic.
Studio Players was established in 1953 and while it has certainly experimented with many kinds of plays and players in its half century of existence, there is one type of play it can always count on to deliver laughs and ticket sales. I call it the forget-all-your-troubles play. You know, the kind of hammed up, unpretentious comedy that unabashedly goes for the big laughs and relieves the audience of having to ponder anything too meaningful.
This year's season opener, Elvis Has Left the Building, is one such play.
The fact that it has the word "Elvis" in the title is probably a clue. Like the words "Tuna" or "Toga," the presences of "Elvis" in a play title promises a certain camp factor, though serious dramatists, you are invited to prove otherwise.
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And while Elvis is in the title, he is nowhere in the play. At least ... not how you'd expect.
The central plot point is that the King has gone missing and his manager, The Colonel, is having an epic freak out as a result. He owes a big gambling debt to an Italian fellow who does not like to be called Bugs and who might break your legs if you cross him ("His name ends in a vowel!" The Colonel laments).
In order to settle his debt, The Colonel must get Elvis to perform at the Golden Horseshoe Casino. With the real Elvis nowhere in sight, The Colonel digs deep into his carnival swindler bag of tricks and conjures the world's first Elvis impersonator.
Tim X. Davis embraces his role as The Colonel with Southern gusto. In a dizzying mix of not entirely likeable and contradictory personality traits, we cannot help but admire The Colonel's sheer gutsiness, even if he is an egomaniacal, greedy, sexist, gambling-addicted conman.
And while Davis' character drives the tempo and tone of the play, it's not a one man show. Supporting characters get a chance to chew up some scenery, too, which brings a refreshing balance to what could be a top heavy production.
School for the Creative and Performing Arts senior Cody Taylor threatens to steal the show. It's not just his characterization of awkward, bumbling, oft-humiliated assistant Roscoe that brings the laugh. His riotously funny transformation into the King is truly worthy of the bedazzled jumpsuit Ellen Hellard designed, which reflected Mylissa Crutcher's Vegas-show lighting with appropriate sparkle.
Spencer McGuire also glitters as one of two "Elvi" and Allie Darden and Chrisena Ricci deliver well-timed comedic zingers.
I'm not one to guffaw at physical comedy much, but this show relies on it and what can I say, like The Colonel's parlor trick hypnosis—it works.