Elvis lives in Heartbreak Hotel at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse

Elvis lives in Heartbreak Hotel at Chicago's Broadway Playhouse

Summer is a time to chill out...you've got your beach reads, your summer festivals and now the perfect summer musical, Heartbreak Hotel, a feel good jukebox musical that will have you dancing in your seat--or maybe even the aisles-- at Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E. Chestnut) where it's making its Chicago Premiere.

Although, the King, has been long gone (since 1977) it seems that Elvis Presley mania never goes away.

Heartbreak Hotel, written and directed by Floyd Mutrux (Million Dollar Quartet), who was at the opening performance wearing his trademark red clogs with his long gray locks flowing, tells the story of Elvis Presley in his early years when he and Sam Phillips (Matt McKenzie) create the style that will forever change the face of music.

Elvis Presley's (Eddie Clendening) career takes off at a mind bending pace--18 months from a shy truck driver to American icon--setting the stage for con artist  "Colonel" Tom Parker (in a spot-on performance by Jerry Kernion) to buy his contract from his mentor Sun Records Phillips and mess up his personal relationship with his 16-year-old girlfriend, Dixie Locke (nicely portrayed by Erin Burniston).

Eddie Clendening (as Elvis) and Jerry Kernion (as Colonel Tom Parker) in a scene from the musical “Heartbreak Hotel.” | Brett Beiner

Eddie Clendening (as Elvis) and Jerry Kernion (as Colonel Tom Parker) in a scene from the musical “Heartbreak Hotel.” | Brett Beiner

Clendening has the Elvis persona down pat with all the right moves, even the famous Presley snarl, however he seems to be holding something back--never fully breaking out to be the Elvis that I think he could be and should be.

The rest of the cast is well cast with a terrific Geno Henderson taking on mutiple personas including Jackie Wilson, BB King, Ike Turner and others, Matt Codina, sensational as Guitarist Scotty Moore, Colte Julian as Dewey Phillips, Zach Lentino as Bill Black, Jamie Pittle as DJ Fontana/Drums, Darcy Jo Wood as Marion Keisker, Katherine Lee Bourné as Rosetta Tharpe and others, Takesha Meshé Kizart as Ruth Brown and others, Andrea Collier as Sally Wilbourn and others, Alicia McCracken Morgan as Gladys/ensemble, and Chuckie Benson, Briana Bower, Tommy Malouf and Zach Sorrow as understudies/swings.

You'll hear your favorite Elvis songs from the King himself as well as the legends who influenced his iconic music, with chart-toppers including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “That’s All Right,” “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” and, of course, “Heartbreak Hotel.”

The show’s creative team includes Birgitte Bjorum (Choreography), Adam Koch (Scenic Design), Jason Lyons (Lighting Design), Drew Levy (Sound Design) and Daniel Brodie (outstanding Projection Design), John R. Banister and Keith Harrison (Orchestrations and Arrangements) and Tom Vendafreddo (Music Direction).

The cast and creative team roll doing the best possible with a somewhat lackluster script and if you are a fan or at least appreciate the talent of the R & R icon, I think you'll enjoy Heartbreak Hotel--the prequel to Million Dollar Quartet.

Although the show doesn't have the fire of its prequel--the legendary 1956 recording session that brought together Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis Johnny Cash and Presley at Sun Records--that played for nearly a decade in Chicago--it still provides an enjoyable evening of theater with great music by extremely talented performers.

And by all means, stay for the encore.

When the cast takes what looks to be their final bows--don't run for the exits. Its in the nearly 20-minute long encore that the show hits its high notes. Clendening and the rest of cast  break out in a rousing medley of Elvis hits including “All Shook Up”, “Jailhouse Rock” and others bringing the audience to their feet and rocking the house.  

Rating: ★★★
What: Heart Break Hotel
Where: Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut
When: Through September 9
Running time: 2 hours and 15 minutes, with one intermission
Tickets: $35-$75 at broadwayinchicago.com

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Filed under: Theater in Chicago

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