Review: “Blood Suede Shoes” sells out world premiere

Published 5:32 am Thursday, June 15, 2023

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The world premiere of “Blood Suede Shoes: A Sergeant Elvis Presley Murder Mystery” sold out its first night at Pioneer Playhouse on Friday.

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The original play by Pioneer Playhouse Artistic Director Robby Henson is set in 1960 in a Scottish castle on a stormy night, where visitors from London are conducting a séance.

The plot includes one real-life fact that in 1960, Sgt. Elvis Presley was returning to the U.S. after serving in the military, and made a stop in Scotland. Henson explained in an interview that he took that fact and wondered what might’ve happened during Elvis’ brief stay in Scotland, and why he never returned to the country after that.

In the play, Elvis gets stuck in stormy weather and ends up at the Scottish castle with a myriad of eccentric characters. Stuck with a murderer on the loose and a possible threat to his life, Elvis has to use his military training and common sense to help solve the case.

Actor Jack Giglia, who returned for his second season at Pioneer Playhouse, stars as Sgt. Presley. Giglia does a good job personifying Elvis, recreating his voice and embodying Elvis’ calm, smooth mannerisms.

Out of all the wild characters around him, Elvis is a level-headed presence, often giving helpful advice to characters while they swoon over him.

Between an acquisitive psychic, a couple with a bad marriage, an incompetent constable, and fears of an escaped lunatic from the nearby asylum, Sergeant Elvis kept the plot moving through all its twists and turns.

Henson certainly wrote the show for the playhouse’s audience, as he explained in an interview that their audiences love Elvis. Inspired by “Clue: On Stage,” and Agatha Christie murder mysteries, the show has a more comedic take on the classic murder mystery style.

Promos for the play describe it as “outrageous” and “uproariously funny,” and this writer has to agree. While the title of “murder mystery” may leave people expecting a dark tone, the show never claimed to be a serious drama.

Audiences got big laughs out of over-dramatic Scottish accents, clever punchlines, Elvis references, and cartoonish bits. Some accents were difficult to understand at first; however, some of that was for the sake of comedy.

The outlandishness of every situation made even the characters joke about what unfolds around them.

While the mood is good fun, the plot is no less thrilling and complex. Audiences must pay attention to both the dialogue and action, so as not to miss important details.

While the first act provided important setup, audiences were never bored in the second act. The ending was chock full of twists, some unexpectedly wild.

Actors kept a fast pace in the just-under two-hour show. The second act was so full of action and twists, that the resolving phase became almost overcrowded in tying up loose ends. But as with any good whodunit, the play left some mystery with the audience.

The set, filled with vintage furniture and props and painted a gloomy green, lends to the overall stormy night vibe.

Every actor was perfectly cast. Each person fully embraced the personality and appearance of their characters, bringing a high energy to their roles.

Almost every character has a secret, and those actors played both sides of their characters very convincingly.

The character I found most intriguing was the cruel psychologist Colin Barr, played by Kevin Hardesty. Hardesty has had a long theater and Hollywood career, and recently moved back to Kentucky. This was his first play for Pioneer Playhouse, and he fit the role well, delivering Barr’s manipulative dialogue in a way that left other characters at a loss for words.

The opening night was attended by many local sponsors, the Danville mayor and city commissioners, and a crew was taking photos and video for a Danville promotional spotlight, sponsored by the Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Attendees stayed after the show for a special opening night reception with music by the local Michael Hughes band.

Shows run Tuesdays through Saturdays until July 1. The play begins at 8:30 p.m. with a dinner at the playhouse at 7 p.m.