Think back—how many popular music star biopics have you seen that follow this arc: sincere artist’s unexpected (if inevitable) rise from obscurity to massive success, addiction to alcohol/drugs, shaky career trajectory, painful rehabilitation, ultimate triumph? Don’t any ascending stars watch these movies? Maybe it’s a comment on the how young people perceive their invulnerability. Or on filmmakers’ affinity for formula.

Rocketman, which covers Elton John’s early career, has those elements. Blessedly, it is not that movie (trailer). Writer Lee Hall and director Dexter Fletcher have accomplished something much more interesting and creative.

In the opening scene, Elton John (played brilliantly by Taron Egerton) strides down an empty hallway in full sparkly devil bodysuit, cape, cap, and horns and plunks himself in a chair at an AA meeting. “I know how this goes,” he says and enumerates his many addictions. The group leader’s probing returns him to his childhood where he picks out tunes on the piano by ear. Back in the support group, in costume, he wrenches off the horns.

He’s taken back to other earlier events, and each time he return to the group, another piece of his outrageous costume is gone. Clearly, he’s stripping off the trappings of his onstage persona to get to the man underneath. So much more effective—and emotionally resonant—than the overhead shots of poor Ray Charles writhing on his rehab bed. (I love a great metaphor!)

When John is finally able to embrace the sweet child he was, well . . . Whatever process the real-life John went through, it worked. He’s been sober for 28 years.

This movie doesn’t set out to be chronologically precise biopic and is not limited by that form. It’s a musical, with toe-tapping dance numbers and bracing energy. The filmmakers weave in Elton John’s songs with their remarkable lyrics where they fit in the development of the character. The friendship between John and his forever lyricist Bernie Taupin (Jamie Bell) is an emotional core of this story. Other relationships may implode or fade, but Taupin, whom John met thanks to a complete fluke, has been with him for fifty years.

The film does not deny audiences the considerable pleasures of the Johns/Taupin music, which Egerton delivers with enthusiasm. Plus there were probably blood-soaked feathers on the floor as people fought for the job of costume director, which ultimately went to Julian Day.

Do yourself a solid, see it!

Rotten Tomatoes Critics Rating: 91%; audiences: 88%.

Elton John’s Million Dollar Piano

Elton JohnHitting the jackpot in Las Vegas may be dicey, but you can count on Elton John’s Million Dollar Piano show, which debuted in 2011, for a first-class entertainment experience there that blends visual and musical wizardry.

Sir Elton’s show at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace includes 20 top tunes in two hours. Joining him is a superb backup band including drummer Nigel Olsson, percussionist Ray Cooper and guitarist Davey Johnstone, each of whom has played with Sir Elton for over four decades. They know each other—and the material— so well that the groove is stirring and strong.

Sir Elton, who turns 69 in March, is celebrating a 50-year collaboration with lyricist Bernie Taupin. His piano playing remains rollicking and his voice is still strong (for a limited time, you can hear a BBC interview with him here). The Colosseum has excellent sight lines and sound that brings the audience right into the mix. At the end of the show, some in the front rows go onstage to sing around the piano with Sir Elton.

It took Yamaha five years to design and engineer the piano expressly for the space and show. Co-producer and lighting designer Patrick Woodroffe explained, “I always thought that the piano would be an extraordinary thing, (but) I wasn’t sure how we would integrate it into the show. It wasn’t until she (the piano is named Blossom) was plugged in, turned on and tuned up that I suddenly felt like she had come home.”

The piano is an “electronic paintbox,” which augments and enhances each tune and includes photographic images and colorful effects. For example, when Sir Elton sings “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” a photo montage appears showing him in his outlandish outfits at various stages in his performing career. For “Crocodile Rock,” the piano edges and backdrop are green glowing scales. According to the show’s website, the 19 animated films and videos that the piano is keyed to were completed in less than four months and involved 175 people working 24/7 in London. The “canvas” is a tennis-court-sized screen behind the band.

Co-producer Mark Fisher had free rein to imagine the set design. “What I was imagining was the creation of an over-the-top world that presented Elton as I saw him, dancing on the knife-edge that separates high art from low camp,” adding “I was looking to balance the huge size of the Colosseum stage with the human scale of one man at the piano.” Huge hanging keyboards, rockets and Sun King images, along with tall guard dogs whose gaze is focused on Sir Elton, add visual interest to the vast expanse.

Sir Elton is in Japan and Australia on tour now, but he and the Million Dollar Piano return to Caesar’s from April 16-30, 2016. It’s a sure bet for an evening of great entertainment. For more information, go to Caesar’s website.

This review is by Tucson-based guest reviewer Jodi Goalstone, who writes the highly entertaining blog Going Yard, Offbeat Baseball Musings.