BEVERLY — After all this time, is there anything new to say about Elvis Presley?
Maybe, maybe not. In any case, the formulaic and superficial “Elvis: A Musical Revolution” doesn’t say it, despite Dan Berry’s magnetic performance in the title role.
This new musical, directed and choreographed by Kevin P. Hill at North Shore Music Theatre, largely contents itself with taking us on a dutiful tour through the King’s life and career.
That is oft-trod territory, to put it mildly. Books, feature films, and made-for-TV movies and miniseries have told Presley’s story, or tried to, in the years since his death at 42 in 1977 at his Graceland home unleashed a national wave of grief. Last year brought us Baz Luhrmann’s nearly unwatchable “Elvis,” and now we have Sofia Coppola’s “Priscilla,” based on Priscilla Presley’s memoir, “Elvis and Me.”
With “Elvis: A Musical Revolution," scriptwriters Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti, working from a concept by Floyd Mutrux, are so intent on biographical box-checking that they’ve burdened their musical with a momentum-sapping predictability.
Presley’s place in the iconography of pop culture is large and complex, and it reflects his own split identity: part rock ‘n’ roll pioneer, part bloated embodiment of Las Vegas kitsch. “Elvis” doesn’t really wrestle with that contradiction or deliver the kind of fresh interpretive insight or grasp of the big picture that would justify its subtitle.
To its credit, “Elvis” does emphasize Presley’s debt to Black blues and gospel singers and songwriters, and makes clear that in the 1950s, his whiteness gave him a shot at a level of success they could never attain.
Some scene transitions have a hurried choppiness, while a few scenes simply run on too long. In Act Two, for instance, when a flailing Elvis approaches meltdown mode as he angrily berates his musicians in a recording studio, the scene runs on well after its point has been made.
But — and this is a big, though not decisive, but — the stage at North Shore Music Theatre comes fully alive whenever Berry launches into song, his performances including a number of Presley’s best-known hits, such as “Heartbreak Hotel,” “That’s All Right,“ “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Love Me Tender,” and “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”
A recent graduate of the University of Oklahoma, Berry is an electric presence, and a virtual case study in how a talented performer can carry a show to a place it wouldn’t reach without him.
He radiates charisma from the start — when a black-clad Berry stands with his back to us, leg twitching with barely suppressed energy — to the musical’s too-abrupt finish, when Elvis rises up through the stage floor in his trademark jumpsuit. When he sings, Berry sounds like Elvis rather than one of the Elvis impersonators who stalk the land.
If not on Berry’s level, most of the other performances are reasonably solid.
As Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis’s Machiavellian manager, David Coffee seems to be channeling John Huston’s Noah Cross in “Chinatown," with a trace of Burl Ives’s Big Daddy in “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof."
Mary Callanan, a pro’s pro, brings a down-to-earth warmth to her portrayal of Elvis’s mother, Gladys. In this telling, Gladys’s death dealt Presley a blow from which he never really recovered.
Emma Wilcox makes what she can of the underwritten part of Priscilla Presley, first as a gushing teen, then as a neglected and embittered wife, isolated in Graceland while her husband is off making schlocky movies. (A second-act medley of those films is deftly and amusingly executed by director Hill, illustrating how, role by role, Hollywood made sure Elvis would never be seen as cool again.)
Bronson Norris Murphy plays a couple of sharp-elbowed guys: record producer Sam Phillips and Frank Sinatra. He’s reasonably convincing as Phillips, but not persuasive in the least as Sinatra. At the performance I saw, Patrick Naughton did a nice job as Kid Elvis.
“Elvis” ends on a triumphant note, confirming the sense that its principal goal is to provide the theatrical equivalent of comfort food for diehard Elvis fans — and perhaps to distract them from asking what it all added up to: the show and the life.
In any case, you’re not likely to really know, feel, or understand any more about that troubled legend than you did on your way into the theater.
ELVIS: A MUSICAL REVOLUTION
Book by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti. Based on a concept by Floyd Mutrux. Directed and choreographed by Kevin P. Hill. Presented by North Shore Music Theater, Beverly. Through Nov. 12. Tickets $68-$93. 978-232-7200, www.nsmt.org