Reference books state that Elvis gave performances in 79 cities in 1956. How many cities do you think hosted Elvis Tribute Artists in 2011? My guess is that it could be ten times that number. ETA shows aren’t limited to just large cities. They have come to three small suburban cities in my area, and you probably have seen the same where you live. These were one-night gigs, and one tribute artist did the whole show.
In 2008, a two-part ElvisBlog article noted a change in the nature of some Elvis tribute concerts. It covered a package show called The Elvis Birthday Tour with three top Elvis Tribute Artists performing back-to-back-to-back. One did the 50s Elvis songs, another wore a black leather suit and sang hits of that era, and finally a jumpsuited ETA did the songs from Elvis’ Vegas days.
The show moved around to eight Midwest cities where expensive tickets in large venues moved Elvis tribute into the realm of big-time entertainment. These multi-artist shows have continued in the years since, and similar tours have performed in other areas of the country.
Now, one very talented performer has done something I never thought possible. He repeated his act for 18 shows in a city of just 62,000. The venue was the Greenville Little Theatre in Greenville, SC.
This doesn’t look like a performaning arts center you’d find in a city of just 62,000 people, but Greenville is the hub of an area with 400,000 people. The Little Theater presents a schedule of extended runs like Barefoot in the Park, The Music Man, and A Christmas Carol. So, I was incredulous when I saw their newspaper ad for ELVIS: Shake, Rattle, & Roll, running from September 15 to October 2.
The star of the show was Scot Bruce. Although I have seen or read about dozens of Elvis Tribute Artists, I was not familiar with Scot Bruce. Certainly the theater-going public in our area didn’t know him either, so how could he continue to put people in $30 seats for 18 performances? Part of the answer was the Little Theatre subscriber base of 3,000, but a capacity of 600 seats time 18 shows equals 10,800. Scot Bruce had to deliver, if this was going to be a successful run.
It turned out that savvy marketing, a great review in the paper, and tremendous word-of-mouth recommendations made this a very profitable show for the theatre. The Friday and Saturday night shows nearly packed the house, and week-nights had ¾ of the seats filled.
The reason the reviews and word-of-mouth were so good was because of the considerable talents of Scot Bruce and his band. So, who is this guy who did such a great job? Based in Los Angeles, Scot has a varied background that led to his Shake, Rattle and Roll show. Over the years he has been a radio personality, singer, drummer, songwriter, and actor. During his early years in L.A., Scot experienced his share of hard times, so he started doing a 1950s era Elvis show to supplement his income. What was meant as a part-time gig has grown into a full time career.
Scot’s live shows have taken him across the U.S. and many parts of the world. He and his four-piece band regularly perform at Disneyland, and he tours with the Legends of Rock and Roll – Buddy, Roy & Elvis. However, it was his performance in another touring show, Idols of the King, that gave him the chance to reach new levels in Elvis tribute. Idols of The King is a two-part play, half music and half vignettes about two Elvis fans who would do anything to see Elvis perform in Las Vegas.
Scot Bruce has starred Elvis in the show’s extended runs in many performing arts centers around the country, including the legendary Ryman Auditorium in Nashville, former home of the Grand Ole Opry, and the Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery. However, it was at the Barter Theater in Abingdon, VA where Scot made such an impression on the theater’s administrators that they worked with him to book his own show for an long run. The theater-goers had loved him so much in Idols of the King that they came back to catch him again in ELVIS: Shake, Rattle & Roll in 2010. Then, Scot brought his show there again in 2011, and it had 23 sell-out shows.
As fate would have it, the Artistic Director of the Greenville Little Theater was visiting his son in Abingdon, VA and took in a performance of the show. He was so favorably impressed that he booked Scot for 18 shows in my city this fall. When I saw it, I was so favorably impressed I had to write this blog article.
Scot took a risk when he planned his new show. He decided to skip the all-too-common jumpsuit Elvis, because “when I wore a jumpsuit I looked more like Evil Knievel.” Instead, Scot specializes in Elvis’ music from the 50s and early 60s. He performs 28 songs, split into two segments. First, he does a delightful set of Elvis’ early hits. I especially liked when he was joined at center stage by just the guitarist and bass player, and they did a tribute to Elvis’ songs from Sun Records.
After the break, Scot came back on stage in a ’68 Comeback Special black leather outfit. He performed a mixed bag of Elvis tunes from the early sixties, three gospel songs, and two late 60s hits: “Burning Love” and “Suspicious Minds.” It was strange but rewarding to see someone not wearing a jumpsuit do “Suspicious Minds” without those blaring trumpets.
The program ended with what has become the de facto Elvis tribute show finale: “American Trilogy,” complete with the US flag unfurling in the background. I’ve seen this before several times at other performers’ shows, but I still get choked up every time.
The other element of Scot Bruce’s successful show is that he has been a lifelong Elvis fan, and it shows. I loved his banter between songs. It contained humor, trivia and a lot of respect and admiration for the King.
I don’t guess there are too many theater artistic directors who read ElvisBlog, but I hope one of you readers might know one. Send him a link to this article, and maybe he can envision Scot Bruce in ELVIS: Shake, Rattle, & Roll succeeding in your home town. If that should happen, be sure to go. You will have a blast.
Scot Bruce in ELVIS: Shake, Rattle, & Roll www.scotbruce.com
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