So, what could possibly inspire me to write a musical about the soul of Elvis returning to Earth to battle the Antichrist?
Inspiration #1: During the 1980s I was a host at a midtown New York restaurant, The Magic Pan. On the second floor was a newly-installed cabaret called Panache, and after one of my shifts I went to check out the entertainment. On stage that evening was a revue called, I believe, The Texas Chainsaw Manicure. What a brilliant title. Midway through the show there was a skit about an Elvis impersonator. I don’t remember anything about that skit, but I do remember thinking to myself, “What would happen if there were thousands of Elvis impersonators… nay, MILLIONS of them – taking over the planet?” I loved the idea… but what to do with it? I didn't have a clue. But seeing this skit inspired me to write a song for my comedy “mock ‘n roll” band, LaZOO to perform. Called simply, Elvis Impersonator, the lyrics told the tale of a rock star who was going insane with the grind of heavy metal, and wanted a new direction in life – so he becomes an Elvis impersonator. When I presented the song to my band – specifically written for our keyboard player to perform – he didn’t want to do it, so it was retired to my file drawer… for a while.
Inspiration #2: After I met my wife-to-be and moved from Manhattan to Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, I took a different route than I usually took on my way to the subway, and stumbled upon a religious artifacts store. I looked in the window and saw plenty of paintings and statues of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, but something else caught my eye that somehow didn’t seem to belong there: a plaster bust of Elvis. It freaked me out. I asked myself, “What is Elvis doing here? Are people also worshipping… Elvis?” Shortly thereafter I received the answer to my question. In an article in the Sunday New York Times Magazine entitled (as best as I can recall), Among the Believers, I read about the thousands of fans who make a pilgrimage to Graceland every year during “Death Week” to be with Elvis on the anniversary of his passing. I read about the hundreds of people who actually worship him as if he were the Christ. In fact, some of their beliefs are so strong they have experienced actual healings. I read about “disciples” with Elvis rooms in their homes with Elvis altars. I read about people who actually collect and trade vials of Elvis sweat. I even read about a church – The First Presbyterian Church of Elvis the Divine – where Elvis worshippers can gather and pay tribute to the King… of Kings. It was as if the Second Coming had already happened. There was something very humorous and twisted about it all. I love and respect Elvis, and think he was one of the biggest talents and stars of our time. But when you start to equate him with Jesus, it just gets too insane for my senses. A story was starting to develop. I had to write a musical.
Inspiration #3: I was always immersed in way too many other creative projects, and never got around to working on my new Elvis musical – other than writing an outline and a few songs. I decided to expand the story around the song I originally had written for LaZOO. I decided to write about vast swarms of Elvis impersonators taking over the world – just as I had made up in my head that night at Panache. And I decided I would satirize the people who worship Elvis as if he were some kind of deity. But that’s as far as it went until the day I was driving down the West Side Highway in Manhattan with my wife and I casually asked her, “Wanna hear a song from my musical?” She said yes, and I started to tell her the plot, and sang her, You Are The King Of Kings. I was surprised by her response when I was finished: “That’s brilliant. It’s a hit show. Why haven’t you finished writing it? Get off your ass and finish it!” And so, I listened to her. I always listen to her. She inspired the hell out of me, and within two months the first draft of Attack of the Elvis Impersonators was completed.
Inspiration #4: Stewart Johnson, my late, great scenic design professor when I was a student in the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee theater arts program, was visiting New York to create something amazing (he always did) for a SoHo clothing store. We went out to dinner and he asked me what I was working on. “I have a new musical, Attack of the Elvis Impersonators.” His eyes lit up just hearing the show’s title. He said it was a great name for a musical – very “catchy” – and asked me to describe the story. After I told him the plot he said to me, “I want to do your show in my theater.” At this time Stewart and his wife Diane owned the historic Modjeska Theater in Milwaukee. He asked me what I needed to finish the show. “Well, I need to actually write out the music. Right now it’s all in my head or scribbled down as chord charts.” I told Stewart that the person who I would most like to work with was my good friend and former Barney the Dinosaur collaborator, Stephen Bates (also late and great). Stewart said he would pay for my airfare – and soon I was off to Los Angeles to shack up with Stephen. Before too long the music to the first draft was done, and Stephen and I even recorded a rudimentary demo to submit to the Disney/ASCAP/Stephen Schwartz musical development workshop. My show wasn’t chosen, but my buddy Stephen, who had been the musical director of many shows and knew musical theater inside and out, told me, “You have a hit. Don’t give up. Keep at it.” I did. After several readings in New York, Virginia and a full-scale production with a cast of teenagers at Stewart and Diane’s Modjeska Theater, the progress has continued.
Without Whom… Shulamit Lazarus, Larry Rosner, Diane and Stewart Johnson, Stephen Bates, David Charne, Jeff Olmsted. I love you all. Thank you. Thank you very much.
– Lory Lazarus