During a performing career that spanned 20-plus years, Elvis Presley went through three phases: the early rock ’n’ roll years of the 1950s and early ’60s, his “comeback” in the late ’60s and his Las Vegas showman phase of the ’70s.
All those musical styles will come into focus Saturday night at the Mahalia Jackson Theater for the Performing Arts when the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra presents “Remember the King: Elvis Through the Years.”
To the accompaniment of a 70-piece orchestra, Robert Shaw, of Lonely Street Productions, along with his Lonely Street Band, will perform classic tunes from the Elvis songbook, stretching from his raucous rock ’n’ roll days to the mellow, toned-down style of his later years as a megastar attraction on the Las Vegas Strip.
Elvis fans in the audience can expect to hear such familiar early classics as “That’s All Right Mama,” “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” as well as later ones like “Suspicious Minds,” “Burning Love,” “If I Can Dream” and many more. The songs will be presented roughly in chronological order.
Former New Orleanian Jonathan Tessero, 31, will conduct the performance, making his LPO debut.
Shaw, 35, grew up in Indiana listening to Elvis songs on an oldies radio station. “I didn’t have a particular fascination with Elvis at the time, but I do remember thinking he was the epitome of cool — dark hair, rock ’n’ roller,” Shaw said.
While pursuing an acting and singing career in his mid-20s, Shaw was working in a theater in Tucson, Arizona, in 2005.
At the request of the owner, he and his band began staging a series of Elvis tribute shows on “dark” Monday nights, showcasing the various stages of Elvis’ singing career. “It was a hit from the word ‘go,’ ” Shaw said. “Each show sold out.”
Buoyed by the success of these performances, he founded Lonely Street Productions, taking the name from one of Elvis’ earliest hits, “Heartbreak Hotel.”
Elvis tributes became the company’s mainstay, and four years later, Shaw was invited to play and sing the role of Elvis in the Broadway touring production of “Million Dollar Quartet.”
Shortly after finishing the tour, Shaw and his business partners began exploring ways to combine the Elvis repertoire with a symphonic pops format.
“With the Las Vegas material from the ’70s, Elvis toured with a 30-piece orchestra,” Shaw said. “So those orchestral parts do exist. In our case, we embellish them for a full symphony orchestra and we put our own little twist on them.”
Tessero concurred with the arrangements composed by Shaw and his collaborators.
“I looked at my scores and they’re very considerate to the orchestra. I had forgotten how much string and horn work was on those original Elvis recordings,” he said.
“A lot of those recordings ended up with 55 to 60 musicians on them after dubbing in the strings and horns. So, to add the other 20 is not that hard,” Tessero said.
“You think of the great Elvis music, certainly the gospel songs, and it just lends itself to that symphonic treatment so well,” Tessero said. “At the end of Act One is ‘If I Can Dream.’ With the symphonic treatment, it’s going to be very effective.”
Shaw’s band members include Khris Dodge (music director/piano), Ron Kadish (bass), Jamey Reid (drums), Ed De Lucia (guitar) and backup singers Crystal Stark, Erin Helm and Juan Aguirre. Shaw plays acoustic guitar and sings lead vocals.
Audience members represent a wide range of ages and interests, Shaw said. About 60 percent are usually Elvis contemporaries and the other 40 percent range from 3-year-olds to high school and college students.
“Every audience has its own personality,” he said. “This will be our first time performing in New Orleans, so we’ll be very anxious to see what kind of response it gets.
“If people want to sing, clap and dance along, they’re more than welcome to do that. I know this is a music and dancing town.”