You’d never mistake Mikelangelo for Elvis. Even on a dark night in a back alley, his heavyset frame and swarthy features would give him away, but fortunately this is not a straight tribute show.
Instead, it offers a range of Eastern European interpretations of Elvis tunes interspersed with the tragicomic tale of a young man’s misadventures as he travels through Yugoslavia in search of his destiny as the next Elvis.
As he notes wryly, “I sound exactly like him except two octaves lower and in a different key.” Mikelangelo’s voice is indeed rich, deep and powerful but it’s the vignettes interspersed between the narratives that provide some of the most entertaining parts of the show. In a questionable accent, Mikelangelo describes an idyllic upbringing in the Croatian mountains before he headed to the big city and was drafted into the army where he met a formidable colonel. Throughout the picaresque tale, there are knowing winks to Elvis’ own biography and the songs are interwoven throughout the narrative with various degrees of success.
As for the music, it’s a mix of frenetic mazurkas, polkas and other styles too obscure to identify. Alongside that, there’s a smattering of gypsy jazz from a band comprised of accordion, contrabass and drums, along with a dash of Balkan brass in the form of a trumpet and sax.
The ballads like 'Love Me Tender' are played pretty straight, but the highlights go a bit wilder and at times have little in common with the originals apart from the rhythm and lyrics. The intertwining horns in particular are tight, fast, and irresistible and highlights include scorching versions of 'Trouble' and 'King Creole'.
'Eastern Bloc Rock' is clearly a show that is still being ironed out – the musicians play from sheet music and Mikelangelo has to check his cues a few times throughout the evening, but when he’s standing in the spotlight with a white tux jacket, jet black hair slicked back using the comb he carries through his travails, I’m willing to suspend my disbelief and go along for the ride.