Inside Heartbreak Hotel
The Broadway Playhouse production focuses on the challenging route Elvis took to superstardom
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IN practically every Elvis Presley production, audiences can expect some booming music, screaming fans and a whole lot of shaking going on. In Heartbreak Hotel, the new musical at Broadway Playhouse through September 30, that’s what you get as the story focuses on “The King’s” historic grasp on the music world from 1954 through 1957.
During that time, Elvis was coming into his own, guided by Sun Records’ Sam Phillips as he began to make an indelible mark while climbing the ladder on his way to becoming one of the most popular entertainers in the world. Thrust into the spotlight on stage is Eddie Clendening, who convincingly transforms into the former truck driver, displaying his unique mannerisms, his gyrating moves and exhibiting more than a semblance of Presley’s voice on familiar songs such as “That’s All Right,” “All Shook Up,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Jailhouse Rock” and “Heartbreak Hotel.”
As some observers have noted, perhaps Clendening has become the quintessential Elvis impersonator, viewed by some as “the Elvis” among many who have portrayed the singer/actor for years. It was Clendening who last year originated the role of Presley in the highly regarded production of Heartbreak Hotel at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. Prior to that portrayal, the Denver native and rockabilly enthusiast, who has played Elvis more than 2,200 times, originated the role in Million Dollar Quartet on Broadway and performed the same role at Chicago’s Apollo Theater, where the show ran for nearly eight years.
Heatrbreak Hotel, written and directed by Floyd Mutrux, is the prequel to Million Dollar Quartet, the historic night when Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins came together at Memphis’ Sun Records in 1956. Hotel chronicles Presley’s early years, delving into some areas that other productions rarely (if ever) highlight. As the show’s title indicates, Presley had to face several devastating matters of the heart, personally and professionally. There was the crushing breakup with his high school sweetheart (played superbly by Erin Burniston), the lasting pain of having to split with Phillips, even though Sun Records probably couldn’t help him realize his full potential, and he had to deal with the fact that his new handlers deemed it necessary to separate him from his longtime band, The Blue Moon Boys, who had been with him from the beginning.
Actor/singer/musician Eddie Clendening takes on the role of Elvis Presley in Heartbreak Hotel at Broadway Playhouse.
Presley's ascension to stardom had a negative effect on his relationship with his high school sweetheart (Erin Burniston), especially after Col. Tom Parker (Jerry Kernion) took over.
The production goes even further, revealing other tidbits, including Elvis’ fascination with actor James Dean, star of Rebel Without a Cause and other ‘50s movies before his death at 24 after an automobile accident in 1955. But it’s the music that’s the star of this show. Aside from Clendening, who displays his usual excellence as “The King,” the cast is filled with other talented musicians and vocalists, beginning with Geno Henderson, a veteran of the Los Angeles music scene who helps to tell the story by performing the music of those who influenced Elvis, including Chuck Berry, B.B. King, Ike Turner and Jackie Wilson. Matt Codina, Zach Lentino and Jamie Pittle raised the level as The Blue Moon Boys; while singers Katherine Lee Bourné and Takesha Meshé Kizart delivered the influential music Elvis heard in hot spots such as The Red Rooster, Cadillac Lounge and the Panama Café. Not to be overlooked are the solid performances of Jerry Kernion as Col. Tom Parker, who described Elvis as an “ass-shaking, guitar-playing, boogie-woogie man”’; Matt McKenzie (Sam Phillips); Colte Julian (disc jockey Dewey Phillips), Andrea Collier (Sally Wilbourn) and Chicago-favorite Darcy Jo Wood as record producer Marion Keisker.
Heartbreak Hotel gives the audience a kind of behind-the-scenes look at the making of an international heartthrob. It highlights some of the really tough decisions Elvis had to make and how those decisions affected him as a man and performer. In the end, Hotel is not all about the bright lights of fame. In fact, it showcases the real struggle––and sometimes the heartbreak––that come along with being a star.
For more information and tickets, go to www.broadwayinchicago.com.