Virtual Elvis to reunite with old musical mates in tribute concert
Elvis fans who claim the King of Rock and Roll really isn’t dead get their wish - sort of - when Presley appears, via video technology, at “Elvis in Concert ‘97.”
The interactive show, which synchronizes filmed footage of Presley with live performers, is the $500,000 finale of Elvis Week and the brainchild of Elvis Presley Enterprises. Joining virtual Elvis will be very real bandmates from Presley’s musical past, including Scotty Moore, D. J Fontana, the Jordanaires and the TCB Band with James Burton.
“We promised Elvis fans for years that we would get everybody back together and do a big reunion show… and let everybody relive some of their moments with him,” says Graceland’s director of creative resources, Todd Morgan.
That they have in a big way. More than 80 performers, from Ronnie McDowell to the Memphis Symphony Pops are scheduled to appear in the three-hour, two-act show, which is different from past tribute concerts since Elvis headlines the whole night, according to Morgan.
“Out of everything I’ve been involved, I’ve never done anything like this,” says producer Stig Edgren, who directed the 1994 Elvis tribute at The Pyramid. “We’re bringing together archival media and live performance. It’s really quite a challenge.”
Elvis will sing about 30 songs with the house ensemble and there’ll be another 15 or so featuring performers such as Terry Mike Jeffrey.
Getting Presley’s lips to move with the beat of a live band was the challenge, says Edgren. Edgren had directed Unforgettable, Natalie Cole’s interactive performance with her late father, Nat King Cole, so he was familiar with the necessary technology - and the necessary price - it took to make Presley look real. Much of the concert’s steep budget, in fact, went to computerized synching, according to Edgren.
Still, Edgren said he found the Elvis footage somewhat easy to work with since he was able to manipulate the film to match the vocal track instead of the opposite, which produced slight exaggerations in the Cole video. “If anybody looks closley at Nat King Cole’s lips, they’ll see spots where he’s a hair off,” says Edgren. “But this way, I don’t think anybody will really catch this.”
As for the band, they will receive a click track to get in and out of songs, but, other than that, they’ll be watching and listening to Presley for their every move. “During the song, they said they want to rock and they’re going to follow (Elvis),” says Edgren, who doesn’t worry since the aforementioned players followed Elvis’s musical cues for years.
The stage design itself is a part of the spectacle. More than 10 tons of equipment have been brought in to recall phases of Presley’s concert career.
There’s a gigantic guitar and a replica of the Elvis sign from the 1968 televised comeback, while part of the stage represents the Las Vegas Hilton where Presley performed. “Right down to the lights on the stage,” says Edgren.
Three screens will tower over the stage including a center screen 20 feet high for Elvis. The two side screens will be used so three cameramen can spotlight Presley’s band, just like any arena concert.
“The set is really laid out to have a concert feel,” says Edgren. “We toyed initially with should it be a TV show with lots of pieces coming in and out. But we liked the idea of a straight concert stage, not a lot of gimmicks. It’ll have some surprises but basically it’s a great orchestra, the TCB band out front, and we’re going to rock and roll the whole way.”
Edgren says he and Graceland found the best behind-the-scenes people they could, including Barbra Streisand’s set designer and the Broadway production designer of Tommy and Ragtime.
Morgan reminds fans that all money from the concert - tickets, T-shirts and program booklets - will go to the Elvis Presley Endowed Scholarship Fund at the University of Memphis.
And who knows, if it’s successful enough, projected Presley may hit the road for a world tour with the TCB band and pickup orchestras. “We’ll get through this (first), this will test out a lot of our ideas,” Morgan says.