“If I Were You” and Other Elvis Presley Songs

Secrets, moonshine and sparkling polyester March 21-24

Hal Matthews as Brett in Leah Barsanti’s “If I Were You” and Other Elvis Presley Songs. Download hi-res image.

“If I were you, I know that I’d love me.”
— Elvis Presley

Brett skips class. He disappears for hours at a time. He nurses a disturbing secret. But one afternoon Brett’s younger sister, Sadie, tails him to an abandoned warehouse and witnesses a clandestine meeting. She learns the shocking truth:

Brett is an Elvis impersonator.

Welcome to “If I Were You” and Other Elvis Presley Songs, an original play by senior Leah Barsanti.

This month, WUSTL’s Performing Arts Department (PAD) in Arts & Sciences will present “If I Were You” for five performances in the A.E. Hotchner Studio Theatre. The play won WUSTL’s A.E. Hotchner Playwriting Competition.

“Leah’s ear for dialogue is really terrific,” says director Jeffery Matthews, professor of practice in the PAD.
“She’s a sharp writer, with a strong voice,” Matthews says. “And she has produced a wonderful and joyous script.”

Three Priscillas: Jamie Gottlieb as Sadie (center), with Anna Richards and Samantha Ligeti as Abby and Kristin.

If I Were You

Inspired by a visit to Graceland, Barsanti set “If I Were You” in 1979, two years after the death of The King.

Sadie and Brett’s family has traded its Tupelo, Miss., farm for the boomtown of Bakersfield, Calif. Their father labors in a paint factory.

But the transition has been rough, particularly for Brett, who finds solace with two like-minded, would-be Elvis tribute artists. All three fall under the dubious tutelage of Tommy Carmichael, the self-styled “greatest Elvis impersonation trainer in California.”

“Tommy is this dissipated guy who drinks moonshine and lives out of his van,” Matthews says, laughing. “And he’s a terrible teacher! He has no skills at all, and he gives the worst possible advice. But he does take their money.”

Sadie, intrigued to discover why her brother is throwing away his Cars records, wants in. Tommy refuses. “You do know that Elvis was a man?” he asks.

But Sadie is quick. “Could I be in the club if I were Priscilla?”

Sadie is soon joined by two other Priscillas, while Brett’s abilities continue to grow. But things come to a head when Brett serenades his idol’s velvet portrait with a heartfelt “Love Me Tender.”

“From that point on, Brett is able to channel Elvis,” Matthews says. “He knows everything about Elvis. He believes that, in some way, he has become Elvis.

“And Sadie tries to get him back.”

Matthews, who was in his early 20s when Elvis died, admits that, personally, he never understood the cult-like fervor surrounding both the singer and his memory.

“I thought Elvis was just this puffy creature that people flocked to,” Matthews says. “But working on this play, watching the old films … Elvis was a workhorse. He had great presence and gravity, and was really powerful on the screen.

“Suddenly I get it,” Matthews concludes. “I have a newfound respect.”

The cast of “If I Were You” and Other Elvis Presley Songs.