UF alumni celebrate 'The King'

Published: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, June 1, 2007 at 12:00 a.m.

He was the undisputed king of rock 'n' roll, whose influential combination of country and blues, along with his hip thrusts and gyrations, were seen and heard across the world. Almost 30 years after his death, Elvis Presley still has countless fans mesmerized.

There are the ones who have every piece of Elvis memorabilia, and the ones who tattoo his face on their arms. There are the impersonators, the side-burn addicts, the convention-goers and the Graceland vacationers. Some name their kids after him.

Now, in the upcoming off-Broadway show "Elvis People: a New Play" by Doug Grissom, audiences will get a chance to meet and relate to the funny and touching cast of characters whose lives have been forever changed by "The King."

"Elvis People" will be performed at the New World Stages in New York City, and the cast and crew include a team of University of Florida alumni, including executive producer Robert A. Rush, a UF law school professor and alumnus.

"I was never really an Elvis fan," Rush said. "I grew up more looking up to Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. But it's the humanistic and 'relate-ability' nature of the show that makes it so powerful."

It's the idea that America as a society allows pop culture into their lives, said Denis McCourt, the show's producing assistant and a current UF theatre graduate student.

"It's a phenomenon in our culture," he said. "We grab onto these icons, whether it be Elvis, the Beatles or Marilyn Monroe."

Nell Page, UF School of Theatre and Dance alumnae and longtime presence at the downtown Hippodrome State Theatre, was a Paul McCartney fan herself, "Beatle haircut" and all. However, she connected with all four of her characters in "Elvis People" by delving into the life of Elvis and who he was.

"For months I researched him. I read books and watched his movies, and somewhere along the way I also realized how incredibly good-looking he was," she said with a laugh. "Most of all, he was an incredibly talented and spiritual man."

"Elvis People" was first performed in Roanoke, Va., and later at the Phillips Center Black Box Theatre in Gainesville. The script has undergone multiple rewrites since then, Rush said, and now even mentions the city of Gainesville.

About three years ago, Rush said he reluctantly attended a reading of the script. He instantly fell in love with it and jumped at the opportunity to produce it.

He decided to take "Elvis People" to New York because he said it's where a production must go to get critical acclaim.

The show will be previewed beginning June 6 and will open June 21. Tickets are priced at $41 for preview shows and $65 after opening.

A special performance will be held Aug. 16 on the 30th anniversary of Presley's death. The evening, priced at $99, will also include a post-show reception and "talkback" with the cast.

About 1,000 tickets have been sold to date, Rush said. It will run all summer, and if sales continue to go as well as they have been, it will possibly continue into the fall and go on tour.

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