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'Elvis Lives' gives audience four views of The King

| Wednesday, March 27, 2013, 8:37 p.m.
Elvis Lives Tour
Bill Cherry plays the ‘70s Elvis Presley in 'Elvis Lives.'
Elvis Lives Tour
'Elvis Lives' features four performers playing Elvis Presley at different periods of his life.

Fans of Elvis Presley often debate about which Elvis is their favorite.

For some, it's the hip-swiveling young Elvis who took the world by storm with “Hound Dog.”

Others favor the 1968 leather-clad comeback Elvis or movie-star Elvis or '70s white-jumpsuit concert Elvis.

Whatever their choice, fans can have it their way March 29 and 30 when multiple versions of The King come together on the Heinz Hall stage with “Elvis Lives.”

A presentation of Broadway at Heinz Hall, the multimedia production is a partnership between On Stage Touring and Elvis Presley Enterprises.

It combines images, backup singers and dancers, and a band that showcases an abundance of songs from Presley's career, some of which are familiar hits and others that may be less-well-known.

“Elvis narrates as we go along with actual footage projected on the screen behind,” says Bill Cherry, who plays '70s Elvis.

Not one but four Elvis tribute artists portray Presley at various phases of his life. Cherry and his three fellow performers — Leo Days ('50s Elvis), Ben Klein (1968 Elvis) and Kevin Mills (movie-star Elvis) — are joined by Lori Russo, a tribute artist who plays Ann Margret, Presley's co-star in “Viva, Las Vegas.”

The Elvises were chosen for the tour after becoming finalists in one of the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist contests sponsored by Elvis Presley Enterprises, the corporate entity created by the Elvis Presley Trust to manage its assets.

“It's the only tour endorsed by Elvis Presley Enterprises,” Cherry says.

Cherry never saw Presley perform live. But he grew up listening to records his parents owned and watching movies.

After Presley died, Cherry's parents took him to an Elvis Presley tribute show.

“It was very exciting. I thought: ‘Man, I would like to do that,'” he says.

He started by putting on a pair of tight jeans and a white shirt, darkening and slicking back his blonde hair and belting out Presley songs in his living room while his father illuminated him with a hand-held flashlight.

Cherry started performing for others in 1989. But it wasn't until 1998, when he got laid off from his job as a welder, that he got the courage to make a career out of what he loved.

Long before he won the 2009 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest or got cast in “Elvis Lives,” Cherry knew the '70s Elvis was his favorite. “That's the last memory the world has of Elvis,” Cherry says.

“I grew up in the '70s. I liked that style, the way he dressed,” he says. “I always liked the jumpsuit. He not only laid the path for music but fashion-wise. He started the glam-rockers. Elvis was the King of Bling.”

Fans naturally make up a large part of the audience for “Elvis Lives,” Cherry says.

“They're recapturing something. It's a time tunnel. It takes you back and gives you an insight into Elvis' life.”

But others also enjoy it, Cherry says.

“We get a lot of people dragged to (the show) by an Elvis fan and they walk away Elvis fans,” he says. “Most everyone can relate to Elvis by the rags-to-riches story and his humbleness. We all have a little Elvis in us.”

Asked what Presley would think if he came back and saw the show, Cherry says: “I think he would be amazed. … I think he would be honored and proud.”

Alice T. Carter is the theater critic for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-320-7808 or acarter@tribweb.com.

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