Elvis has left the building,” Zac Hilon drawls into the mic, right before he exits stage left.
He’s wearing an Elvis get-up including a gold-chained belt that is a replica of one owned by the king, and which Hilon tells the crowd he won in an Elvis impersonation contest in Vegas.
The crowd is showing its appreciation to the stars of hit musical revue Unforgettable – Stella Yudko, Charles Garrett and Hilon – with loud yet polite applause, and Hilon has just finished singing “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” Cries of “bravo, bravo, bravo!” ring out from the mostly senior-citizen-aged sold-out audience which this Saturday evening has nestled in at the Nes Ziona Cultural Center to take in chart toppers from the age of the Golden Oldies.
“This is just one of the things that I do,” singer- songwriter Hilon, who has been living in Ra’anana for the past two years, points out after the show, as the performers mingle with fans in the theater foyer.
The things that Hilon does – from cover shows of oldies to performing original acoustic rock – began when he started singing at age 11, then was accepted into Johannesburg’s Performing Arts Workshop at 14.
“One day, a producer walked in and said ‘I need singers for a Kentucky Fried Chicken jingle.’” Hilon was selected, and cast in the commercial itself. This led to more work, before Hilon got his first real “break.” A producer called. “He said, ‘Zac, I’m doing a big beach party show with hits of the ‘80s, it’s a fourpart series and there are six singers – I would like you to be one of them.”
Hilon got more jobs, mostly singing, some acting.
Yet he says that while he has acted in small parts, “I have to be honest, I suck at acting. I was used in commercials and I tried to go into the acting business but I’m just not very good.”
And even with his skill at spot-on impersonations of Elvis, Hilon said, when he was invited to appear in an episode of a now-defunct mafia show he still couldn’t act drunk – and even advice from an acting great didn’t help.
“I was asked to do a bar scene where I was drunk and trying to hit on this woman and this mafia guy comes in and starts beating me up, and I couldn’t act to save my life,” he laughs. “But then Al Pacino walked in and I was like ‘Oh my god, this is all I need, to have Al Pacino on set.’ So I went over to him and I said, ‘Mr.
Pacino, it’s a great honor to meet you. I have a question for you. Maybe you can give me some pointers.’ And he says, ‘Sure, what pointers?’ And I said, ‘How do you act drunk?’ And he said ‘You don’t act drunk, you be drunk!’” The early ’90s brought Hilon new success in South Africa with his rock band, No Way Out.
“These were the days of Guns and Roses, the good old rock-and-roll days,” he says. When Duran Duran came to town, No Way Out opened for them. “To me Duran Duran was a big deal. I was star struck. On the opening night we did sound check and my bass player says to the guys, ‘Hey you want to go out for beers? Want to go for drinks later?’ And they said, ‘Oh no, oh dear, no no no... we only drink tea.’” Hilon laughs as he recalls the night he spent drinking tea and playing chess with Duran Duran at the new wave band’s hotel rooms.
After a short stint in Israel, during which he continued performing gigs, on cruise ships and at resorts, Hilon relocated to the UK in 1998. He opened a music label and began work on his first album, filming a music video for his first single, together with producer Ian Catt, who’d worked with Kylie Minouge and Massive Attack. But deals fell through and the album languished, eventually finding its way to MySpace, and to copies given to friends. And life went on, and Hilon moved to the US. He studied video editing, and worked as a video editor, while continuing to book gigs.
Fast-forward to 2015. Hilon is traveling through Europe as part of the successful music revue Unforgettable.
“A DJ from Las Vegas called me up. He said, ‘Are you Zac?’ I said yes. He said, ‘I’m playing your album on the radio.’ I said, ‘What album?’ and he said ‘Out of the Dark,’ and I said ‘How the hell did you get a hold of that!?” From this point on, things snowballed. Hilon was asked to the station for an interview. Other stations started airing the song, and soon, his forgotten first album was selling on iTunes and Amazon, and being played in several countries, including Israel and homeland South Africa. Then, with the help of a friend from the entertainment industry, Hilon was signed for a new album, working with Gipsy Kings producer Gerard Tiffay. The album is to begin production in Paris this April.
Outside the theater, the audience is lined up, eager to speak with Hilon and his fellow performers, who graciously greet them. Beryl Schmidt and Ronit Saydon are among them. Schmidt says she has seen Unforgettable 17 times. Saydon has seen it four. Tonight, as they mingle with the crowd, they talk about what brings them back. And while both say they love the oldies, they also say they are big Hilon fans, following his career and listening to his original music.
Hilon for his part, says he is amazed by the way things turned and how his fan base has grown, all because one DJ played his song.
“You know, for a guy my age – I’m 45 – something like this does not happen every day. It’s something that I would have wanted to happen 20 years ago, and it is happening to me now.”
If things go Hilon’s way, Elvis may never come back.
You can follow Zac Hilon at www.zachilon.com. Upcoming dates for ‘Unforgettable’ can be seen at www.unforgettableconcert.