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Million Dollar Quartet featured on New York Times ArtsBeat




The Men Behind the Musicians of ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

The New York Times

ArtsBeat

April 14, 2010

By ERIK PIEPENBURG

The names of the musicians portrayed in the new Broadway musical “Million Dollar Quartet” are so first class they can fly solo: Elvis, Johnny, Jerry Lee and Carl.

The actors who portray them — Robert, Levi, Lance and Eddie — not so much.

“Million Dollar Quartet,” which opened Sunday, is set in the Memphis recording studio of Sun Records on Dec. 4, 1956, when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley gathered for an historic jam session under the watch of Sam Phillips, Sun’s founder. The show includes the hits “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Hound Dog” performed by the actors themselves, along with a drummer and bass player.

In his review Charles Isherwood calls the show a “buoyant new jukebox musical,” with a cast of “gifted musicians and likable performers” who “tackle with no apparent discomfort the unenviable chore of impersonating some of the most revered names in pop music.”

The four actors who play the titular quartet — all making their Broadway debuts — sat down at the Nederlander Theater before a performance to talk about their favorite songs from the show and what it means to portray some of the most iconic names in rock ‘n’ roll history. Following are excerpts from the conversation.

Lance Guest (Johnny Cash)
Hometown: Saratoga, CA
Age: 40

Favorite Cash song in the show: I love singing “Sixteen Tons” but I love playing guitar on “My Babe.” It becomes kind of a hammer-swinging work song. To get the groove right is really a charge. It’s real rock and roll.

Favorite by another character: I love listening to “Long Tall Sally.” I’m off stage singing “Long Tall Sally.” I think it’s a real hot song. I like “I Hear You Knockin,” the one the girl does. That’s a lot of fun too.

Memories of Johnny Cash: We thought in Northern California that music only came from Northern California because in that time, in the late 60s and early 70s, a lot of stuff came from Northern California. The fact that “Folsom Prison Blues” and “San Quentin” were both recorded a few hours away from where I grew up was one of those things.

Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley)
Hometown: Denver
Age: 27

Favorite Elvis song in the show: “Peace in the Valley” is by far the most stripped down and naked that any of us every really get. It’s really us all up there using nothing but our voices, and I really like that.

Favorite by another character: “I Walk the Line.” That is probably the closest we get to actually sounding like an old Sun record.

“Who Do You Love?” is so ******* mean and angry. The way it’s delivered is really angry, sort of the exact opposite of “Peace in the Valley,” which is a kind, gentle rendering. “Who Do You Love” is scary. It’s just great.

Memories of Elvis: I’ve been into old music of the 40s and 50s and old blues and R&B. Living on planet earth you have to try and go out of your way to not know something about Elvis, or at least the fat guy in the jumpsuit, peanut butter and banana sandwiches….You can’t escape his influence.

Levi Kreis (Jerry Lee Lewis)
Hometown: Oliver Springs, Tenn.
Age: “In my 30s”

Favorite Lewis song in the show: “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” for the instrumental duel between Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

Favorite by another character: “Long Tall Sally,” because I love how rocking out that song gets.

Memories of Jerry Lee Lewis: My mom played old 45s of his music when I was a kid. That and gospel music were probably the two strongest influences I had as a musician growing up. … I always appreciated this internal struggle that he had with religion versus rock and roll. In my own particular way I can relate to the kind of inner conflicts that growing up in a strongly religious background in the South can create.

Robert Britton Lyons (Carl Perkins)
Hometown: Seattle
Age: 34

Favorite Perkins song in the show: “Who Do You Love” is so stripped down, and really sinister-feeling to me. It’s this moment where Carl gets to throw all this attitude and stuff out onto the audience. I enjoy doing that.

Favorite by another character: What we’re doing with the Johnny Cash songs, particularly “Folsom Prison Blues,” are legit versions. I listen to playback of these songs we recorded in the studio, and I hear it on stage and all the tones are perfect. It sounds like the records from back in the day. Lance is just killing it vocally.

Memories of Carl Perkins: I wasn’t that familiar with Carl. But I’ve been with the show since 2006, and in these past four years I’ve come to appreciate his real genius. He was not only a singer and guitar player but he was a writer. His lyrics were great, and he told great stories in his writing. And a real nice guy. Everybody I’ve ever talked to who met him in person said he was probably the nicest gentlemen you’d ever hope to meet. I really love portraying somebody with that kind of spirit.

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