It’s now or never

Attended the press preview of the new Trent Carlini Elvis show, "Elvolution," at the Steve Wyrick Showroom, Miracle Mile shops, Planet Hollywood, on the Strip on April 24.

Trent Carlini has a great voice. He’s an excellent showman. He may be the best singer currently offering an Elvis-related show at a major Las Vegas property. He has great vocal power, and he sounds a lot like Elvis. This should be — this could be — a very much above-average show, verging on "great."

Having said all that, if someone asked me to name the best Elvis tribute SHOW in town right now, I’d still have to name Steve Connolly’s lower-budget but extremely warm, relaxed, and user-friendly "Spirit of the King" show, in the markedly more downscale Fitzgerald’s, downtown.

The problem isn’t Mr. Carlini — though the evening did find him racing around till you wished he’d slow down and catch his breath a little sooner. Once the star DID slow down and chat with the audience a bit — about two-thirds of the way through the evening — things got a lot more pleasant.

The problem is the structure of the show. Let’s get specific.

Trent comes out and sings three songs. Then he sings a couple more songs. Then he races offstage. A movie screen descends, and we’re treated to some home movie footage of Trent as a kid, Trent rehearsing with his band, whatever.

Trent comes out, having changed costumes lickety split, performs a few more songs, races offstage. The darned movie screen descends again. This time it’s footage of Trent winning a TV talent contest. Another costume change.

I know the idea is to display "energy." But to this point, Trent Carlini has barely spoken a word. No band is visible onstage. First-time audience members are left with the strong suspicion this young man is performing to (albeit very loud) pre-recorded tracks. After all, if there’s a live band, why can’t we see it? The truly cynical and suspicious might even wonder whether the performer is lip-synching the whole show. This latter worry is, at least, relieved when Trent finally starts to talk. Yes, the voice and the volume seem to match. He does seem to be singing live.

It might sound strange to criticize the fellow for being too letter-perfect, but a false start, a little joke, and then cueing a visible band to re-start a song would immediately cancel out this concern. Even if such a move had to be "scripted."

But — speaking of a band — why show footage of Trent Carlini rehearsing with a band, if there’s no band here tonight? What happened, their bus broke down on the way back from Lake Tahoe?

Finally, two-thirds of the way through the evening — I don’t believe I exaggerate, it took that long — the rear scrim is raised, and guess what? There IS a live band on stage — apparently has been, all along! Though Mr. Carlini never does the standard, albeit cursory, introductions. Maybe the producers thought that had already been handled in one of the "movies." But it’s not the same. Tell us who’s ON STAGE. Five seconds in the spotlight for each member of the supporting cast. Thank them for their work. It makes the star seem generous and considerate, it shows a "human connection," and it only takes a minute.

Yet still the movie screen keeps dropping, and then rising again. Added to the fact that many numbers end with Trent mimicking Elvis’ familiar "Thank you very much," we saw many an audience member looking around with uncertainty each time the curtain closed — particularly later in the show — wondering, "Is that it? More to come?"

These problems could be easily solved. Make the band visible much earlier. It seems to be a very good band, and Elvis was a rock ‘n roll performer, so why not make this a rock ‘n roll show? Allow the (visible) band to play some instrumental rock ‘n roll to cover Trent’s absence during the costume changes. Of which there should be one or two fewer, anyway. Pardon me, Mr. Carlini can of course choose what songs he wants to perform, but Elvis had dozens of top hits, and "Rock-a-Hula Baby" and "G.I. Occupation Blues" were not, to my knowledge or way of thinking, among them. (Think "Burning Love," "It’s Now or Never" … even the charmingly goofy "I Don’t Have a Wooden Heart.") Yes, Trent looks great in his G.I. duds, but this does lead us to the remaining problem, which is structural.

The audience should be given some idea, early on, of how this show is structured. This could be done either with a brief written program, or by Mr. Carlini standing there (after an opening number) and briefly explaining what we’re about to see. Something as simple as "Elvis’ public career lasted 22 years, and breaks down into three" (four?) "main sections. His required military service marked the biggest change in the direction of that career, followed by his comebacks, first here in Vegas, and then with the live broadcast from Hawaii" — or whatever. "So our show tonight will last about 75 minutes, and will be broken down into three" (four?) "acts, taking us roughly from 1956 to 1977. We’ll show you the young Elvis, Elvis the movie star, the big comebacks, and then Elvis the mature showman, before we wrap up with ‘Suspicious Minds’ …"

This isn’t rocket science. It may sound awfully mundane, but put the people at ease. I know Trent Carlini can do it, because he DOES do it — three-quarters of the way into his show. By the time he started calling for the stagehand to bring him more scarves so he’d have an excuse to kneel down and kiss more of the ladies, he had the crowd eating out of his hand. Just develop that rapport a little earlier. Make sure they can tell where you are in the show and when you’re going into your big windup.

You wouldn’t expect fans to follow a baseball game without telling them what inning it is.

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