The Making of a King
There are significant cultural icons that we have grown to love in the 20th century then there is Elvis, a man who came from humble beginnings who left his mark in this world as the King of Rock n Roll. To understand his legacy you have to go back to where it all started before he became an instrumental part in our musical history.
Heartbreak Hotel is written and directed by Floyd Mutrux which is the prequel to the record-setting, Chicago favorite Million Dollar Quartet. This is the tender story of the early years of Elvis with Sam Phillips, Sun Records, and the Blue Moon Boys. There also was his secret love and the battle to find himself as the king of rock and roll. Under the musical guidance of producer Phillips who wanted to bring the sound of African American music to a broader range of listeners, but needed to find a white face for race music. Elvis career was at its early stages however it skyrockets when "Colonel" Tom Parker changes the course of history for him within 18 months.
The story is set in Memphis, TN between the years of 1954-1957 where Elvis Presley (Eddie Clendening) becomes the leading figure of the newly popular sound of an up-tempo backbeat-driven fusion of country music and rhythm and blues. Elvis was the pioneer of rockabilly and the king of rock and roll, even though rock and roll music started in the late 1940s and early 1950s from African American musical styles such as gospel, jump blues, jazz, boogie-woogie, and rhythm and blues.
In the first act, you get to see the backstory of where and how Elvis learned his ability to perform music which was influenced by black rhythm and blues for a white audience by such greats as Jackie Wilson, BB King, and Ike Turner (Geno Henderson)
Spring 1956, rock 'n' roll sensation Elvis Presley sultry looks, ‘pelvis gyrating’ moves, and energetic vocal style drove teenage listeners wild. Presley was fastly becoming a national phenomenon, and his lewd performances promoted much controversy among the parents.
His first single for RCA records, "Heartbreak Hotel," rose to number one on the charts. This helped Colonel Parker set the stage and put into works a movie deal for Elvis.
I, Rick McCain grew up listening to Elvis music and loved his movies. Presley wasn't the best actor but it wasn't how good he acted, it was about his looks and his singing; which the girls just loved. Clendening who plays Elvis just doesn't bring the true feel of Elvis into this play. Elvis impersonators all over the world would be crying out, "Please stop killing the image of The King." Even Elvis himself would be all stook up after seeing this performance. The lack of his ability to carry this role can be seen as the director seems to feature other performers to fill the time in the play and even one of the top Elvis songs, "Falling In Love With You," wasn't sung by Clendening. Clendening, who of course is the star of the play seemed rigid, lackluster in his approach and sadly the least entertaining.
However, the entire play wasn't a loss. There were some excellent performances from the cast, and we could have listened to the Blue Moon Boys performed by Matt Codina (Scotty), Jamie Pittle and Zach Lentino play all night. The second act was a little better; however, the five-minute musical at the end didn't help save this play. I also loved the Ed Sullivan part! Jerry Kernion as Colonel Tom Parker was priceless, and Matt McKenzie as Sam Phillips helped bring some life into the play, and Geno Henderson, who played multiple legends, should be starring somewhere soon.
When touching the life of a legend like Elvis Presley, you have to get a person that can channel the life and spirit of that character, and this production missed the mark.
Let's Play “Somewhat Recommends” Heartbreak Hotel now playing at Broadway in Chicago Playhouse at The WaterTower Place.
The cast includes:
Eddie Clendening as Elvis Presley
Jerry Kernion as Colonel Tom Parker
Matt McKenzie as Sam Phillips
Geno Henderson as Jackie Wilson, BB King, Ike Turner and others
Matt Codina as Scotty Moore
Colte Julian as Dewey Phillips
Zach Lentino as Bill Black
Jamie Pittle as DJ Fontana/Drums
Erin Burniston as Dixie Locke
Darcy Jo Wood as Marion Keisker
Katherine Lee Bourné as Rosetta Tharpe
Takesha Meshé Kizart as Ruth Brown
Andrea Collier as Sally Wilbourn
Alicia McCracken Morgan as Gladys/ensemble,
Chuckie Benson, Briana Bower, Tommy Malouf and Zach Sorrow as understudies/swings.
Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place
CHICAGO PREMIERE OF HEARTBREAK HOTEL
THE PREQUEL TO THE RECORD-SETTING, CHICAGO FAVORITE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Written and Directed by Floyd Mutrux
June 30th – Sept 9th
Filed under: ChicagoNow