Friday, February 3, 2017

“Elvis Lives” at The Kirby
Tribute show magnificently celebrates The King

FEBRUARY 3, 2017

WILKES-BARRE – This year marks the 40th anniversary of the death of Elvis Presley. It’s hard to believe The King has been gone for nearly four decades, especially when you consider what an incredible force he still remains within the confines of pop culture. I realized a few years ago that it’s still hard, even after all of these years, to go for more than just a few days without hearing his name. And what’s even more remarkable, when you really think about it, is that although Elvis has now been a household name for more than 60 years, he actually only lived about 20 years of his life in the public eye. He came into people’s lives on the radio, and on television, and on the big screen in a way that was both revolutionary and unique, and then, in a flash, he was gone.

But, as we all know, Elvis lives. He lives on through his music and his films and through the groundbreaking impact and influence that he had on rock and roll music. He lives on through the more than half a million people that visit his former home, Graceland, every year. And, thanks to “Elvis Lives: The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Event,” he lives on in concert halls across America.

“Elvis Lives: The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Event” visited the F.M. Kirby Center on Wednesday. And for fans of The King, it was a highly-entertaining musical and visual experience. The show featured Dean Z., Jay Dupuis and Bill Cherry, three of the best Elvis tribute artists in the world. And if for some reason the term “Elvis tribute artist” makes you think of an old pot-bellied guy with lamb-chop sideburns and wearing a way-too-tight jumpsuit fumbling through “All Shook Up” at your local karaoke bar, think again. These three men were each winners of The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest, an annual event held in Memphis that is officially sanctioned by Elvis Presley Enterprises. Each singer performs with respect, charisma and a genuine flair for representing The King at his very best.

The show was broken into several segments and moved forward in the proper chronology of Elvis’s career.  It began with a video montage of his early years and his initial recording sessions at Sun Studio. Dean Z. then offered fabulous renditions of “That’s All Right” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” Later, wearing a shiny gold blazer, he tore through some of Presley’s early RCA hits, including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Love Me Tender.” His voice was about as Presley-like as Elvis himself, his dance moves were fabulous and even his laugh and smile seemed to channel The King. His performance, like most of the show, was also shown on a large video screen behind the stage, and even with such tight close-ups, it felt as if you were actually watching Elvis.

Next came a section that paid homage to Presley’s love for gospel music, with Jay Dupis offering passionate performances of “Peace In The Valley” and “Crying in The Chapel.” He then led the show through a section dedicated to Elvis’s film career. This included performances of “Return To Sender” “Bossa Nova Baby” and a few duets from “Viva Las Vegas” featuring the sultry Carol Maccri as Ann-Margaret.

Dean Z. then returned for an epic tribute to Presley’s most famous performance: his 1968 television show which is now known simply as the "’68 Comeback Special.”  With the vocalist dressed in black leather and with staging that offered an exact replica of the set used on the TV special, one once again felt as if you had been transported back in time to the very day that Presley reclaimed the throne of rock. “Heartbreak Hotel” grooved and “Hound Dog” rocked, while “Jailhouse Rock,” “One Night With You” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love” also respectfully displayed some of Elvis’s best work. Dean Z.’s uncanny resemblance to Presley and his gift of completely mastering his mannerism only made it better.

The show ended with a tribute to Elvis’s performing career in Vegas, which he began to do regularly in 1969 and he continued until his death. It was also during those years, in 1973, when he performed live via satellite from Hawaii before an estimated billion people. And it was during those years that he also frequently toured across America. And make no mistake: Presley’s glitzy jumpsuit era also featured some great songs. And they were delivered flawlessly by Bill Cherry. These numbers included “Burning Love,” “Kentucky Rain” and “Suspicious Minds.” During the closing number, “American Trilogy,” Cherry, Dupis and Dean Z appeared on stage together for the first time. Whether there was symbolic intention or not was unclear, but it did seem fitting, as all three vocalists, through the course of the evening, perfectly represented Elvis’s own American trilogy. (The three major eras of his career.) And that in itself made the show special ...

Elvis’s own concerts usually only ran for about an hour. And because he always had an affinity for new songs that he heard on the radio or new songs that he had recorded, he never really gave a full two-hour-plus show packed with his own great hits. “Elvis Lives: The Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Event” did just that. 

I’ve seen all of Elvis’s concert films, I’ve got about 90 of his songs on my iPod and I have visited Graceland. I am a fan. But perhaps the best review of this show came from my 10 year-old daughter, who joined me at the event. I was the exact same age that she is now when The King passed away, and at one point, while she marveled at Dean Z. dazzling up the stage, she turned to me and said: “Wow. Elvis does live!”

Yes he does, darlin’.

Yes, he does.

(Alan K. Stout has covered rock and pop music in Northeastern Pennsylvania since 1992. His weekly radio show, “Music On The Menu,” airs every Sunday night from 9-10 p.m. on 105 The River. Reach him at