Friday, July 6, 2018


Eastern Bloc Roc. – Mikelangelo as the Balkan Elvis.

Written by Mikelangelo. Musical direction by Mikelangelo and Dave Evans. Accordion and piano by Dave Evans. The Playhouse. Canberra Theatre Centre. For one night only. July 5. 2018.

Reviewed by Peter Wilkins

Mikelangelo as the Balkan Elvis. Photo by Claudio Raschella

Mikelangelo is probably best known to Canberra audiences as the front man for Mikelangelo and the Black Sea Gentlemen, that motley band of troubadours with an East European flavour. But as Elvis?  Well not exactly Elvis, but a Balkan version of The King, a boy from a secluded mountain village in the former Communist country of Yugoslavia. Introduced to contraband American music by his much older sister and nanny, Lada, he called himself Johnny Presley and dreamed of being King Croatia. Well, why not? Why can’t an eight year old boy from the village dream of becoming a King of Rock ‘n Roll.  And why can’t Mikelangelo be the Balkan Elvis? He’s handsome, sexy, charismatic and with a voice two octaves lower than Elvis can seduce with a ballad or set your heart on fire with rock and roll desire.
Mikelangelo is the Balkan Elvis. Photo Claudio Raschella

And that’s just what MIkelangelo with the backing of the Moochers Inc. and The Brass Knuckle Band did with his cabaret show, Eastern Bloc Rock. His story of the boy, from his life in the village to his escape from the draft to wartime service at the Front and his return to the village segues into classic Elvis songs as he finds himself surrounded by Suspicious Minds, or dreams of being King Croatia or, surrounded by polka dancers in gorgeous national costume revels in the high life of Viva Dubrovnik. But ambition comes at a heavy price as Johnny Presley discovers In the Ghetto. If you really want something badly enough It’s Now or Never. But If I can Dream, then anything is possible thinks the Balkan Elvis. Fortunately, unlike his idol, Johnny finds true happiness when he asks Marie to Love Me and live together in Peace in the Valley.
Mikelangelo has come up with a winner of an idea – take the familiar and favourite songs of the King, and give them a new and novel twist. The hits are pure nostalgia and the storyline a tantalizing cocktail of the old and the new. With a quiff and dressed in a white jacket or complete black, Mikelangelo plays the crowd as a rock legend, stirring them to clap, stand and dance in the rows. This Dionysus has his devoted Bacchae in the palm of his hand, and the band of accordion, tuba, sax, trumpet and drums whips up a dervish of folkloric fever that at the close has the audience caught up in its jubilation. Canberra goes wild over the Balkan Elvis and Mikelangelo is their Svengali.  
Mikelangelo in Eastern Bloc Roc. Photo: Claudio Raschella

There are the usual sound and lighting hiccups that result from such a short rehearsal time on the stage, but they did nothing to dampen the enjoyment and Mikelangelo and his backing musicians under the musical direction of Dave Evans and the folk dancers took it all in their stride.
Sadly, like other cabaret shows that have come through from the Adelaide Cabaret Festival, Eastern Bloc Roc was a one night stand. The show deserves a longer season and I look forward to a revival. Long live the King and long live the Balkan Elvis!