Fit for The King

Playhouse Square pays tribute to Elvis.

A hunka hunka burnin' Klush, at the State Theatre - Sunday.
A hunka hunka burnin' Klush, at the State Theatre Sunday.
There's a very good reason why impersonators go for the aging, bloated Elvis rather than the young, svelte Elvis: He looks better onstage. "There's no pizzazz to a guy up there, wearing a tweed jacket [from the '50s]," says Shawn Klush, one of five King clones at The Elvis Birthday Tribute, happening Sunday at the State Theatre. "In the '70s, the sound was so big. Elvis had an 80-piece band, and he was running around. There was glitzy clothes and big hair. It's more of a show than just some guy shaking his leg."

Klush, a Pennsylvania native who lives in Myrtle Beach (where he portrays Elvis in Legends in Concert), got hooked on Presley as a tot. "My dad was a DJ back in the '50s, so I got bit by the bug early," he says. "I've been listening to that stuff since I was three years old." An impromptu performance after a school play made him seriously consider a career in Elvis. "It was one of those things that was like 'This is too scary,'" he explains. "Then, once you get [onstage], it's 'This is too cool.'"

If he hadn't expired on the can in 1977, Elvis would turn 69 on Thursday. And his legacy has never been bigger -- everyone does Elvis now: marathon runners, aerial acrobats, even a cartoon alien in a Disney flick. Klush admits it's a crowded field. "In 1978, anybody could put a jumpsuit on, grow some sideburns, go out, get a band, and make money," he says.

"But the fans are more picky now. They know. And they're really getting into it again." The King's rebirth prompted Klush to add 2002's techno remix of "A Little Less Conversation" to his set. "Kids who are 15 and 16 years old are going, 'Wow, he was cool,'" he says. "Exactly."

The Elvis Birthday Tribute divides The King's life into eras -- rockabilly, military, movie, the 1968 comeback, and Las Vegas. A different impersonator covers each period. Klush -- representing the kung-fu-kickin', sideburns-sportin', and white-jumpsuit-wearin' Elvis of the '70s -- is the one fans most identify with. "He was the first rock-and-roll artist to have everything," Klush says. "He was the first guy to have the car and the crib. He had it all."

Klush appreciates Elvis as a rock-and-roll pioneer, but he prefers the appeal of the corpulent King. He oozed charm, Klush says, even when he was mumbling incoherently onstage. "The guy was a complete package. More than any other performer, he had charisma and pull power. You can watch a video and get drawn in. I don't know what that quality is, but he had it.

"And the music is real. None of it's mumbo-jumbo, pop-mix, digital garbage baloney. It's straightforward music. And he was the first guy to do it."