BWW Interviews: The Talented Cast of the National Tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET on Icons and Inspirations
How has this experience been for you?
My name is LEE FARRIS and I'm playing CARL PERKINS. The experience has been fantastic. I've been with the show off and on for about three years and I've really got a chance to get an idea of what it's like to be a truly performing, working actor. I've played music and toured before as a guitarist and a singer but this has really opened me up to what it's like to go out and do eight shows a week and to dig deep and find truth in the guy that I'm playing every night and not let it get too stale. Also getting to see the country and different parts of the world. I've been to Japan with this show and Canada and it's been wonderful.
I'm JOHN COUNTRYMAN and I play JERRY LEE LEWIS, and my experience has also been really great. As I mentioned in the promo, I just got married in June, right before we got started in September so my wife does the merchandise for the show and we are literally newlyweds traveling the country and I love this music. Jerry Lee has been a musical idol of mine since I started playing the piano about ten years ago so for me, without sounding silly, this is really a dream job. I mean I get to play my musical idol and travel with my wife. I mean what else could you ask for?
LEE: And island! (laughter)
JOHN: Yes, give me an island and I'll be happy! (laughter)
I'm KELLY LAMONT and I play DYANNE (Elvis's girlfriend). To be quite honest, I have been doing this show for six years. I love it. I feel very connected to it. It's been amazing!
I'm CODY SLAUGHTER and I play ELVIS PRESLEY. It's been a dream come true for me. When I started this, I never went to college or anything for it, but a friend of mine made a really good point, he said, this is going to be like school for you. So I feel like I've gone to school and I feel like I've grown quite a bit and it's been wonderful.
I'm SCOTT MOREAU and I play JOHNNY CASH. It's been a great experience for me. There's not a better way for me to marry two things that I love, music theatre and Johnny Cash together in one show and be able to do what I do for a living and also be able to pay tribute to Cash. It's really amazing.
What did you do to prepare for these iconic roles?
LEE: With Carl, there is not as much material on YouTube and physical things to watch. I read his autobiography Go Cat Go! and I read a lot of other things that guys like Cash and Elvis had said about him. The Beatles where huge fans of his and they covered three of his songs on their first two records. Paul McCartney originally said that if there was no Carl Perkins there would be no Beatles. But for me, you know, I get a little bit more freedom in the sense that Carl is not the most iconic of the four, and so I get to blend a lot of the 50's, or play a lot of different songs that represent the work of like four or five different guitarists throughout the show. Like the solos that I play; Luther Perkins, who's no relation, but played guitar with Johnny Cash, there's some Chuck Berry stuff in there, Scotty Moore who played with Elvis. So I had to kind of verse myself with all that stuff more than I already knew from growing up loving it. But I had to just go in deep depth and I read a lot of books and listened to a lot of recordings. And then I had a great rehearsal process in New York.
JOHN: I prepared, really, like I said, by just being a lifelong fan. Everything I play, even outside the show is always flavored with a little bit of Jerry Lee Lewis. In that way, to be able to come and set in on something like this and play music that is so close to my heart is such a wonderful thing to do. With talented guys like Lee and everybody up on stage is great. It's just amazing to do that. With that being said, just knowing and loving the guy, I've read all the books, and I've been watching his stuff since I was a little kid. I'm a lifelong devotee! (laughter)
KELLY: I actually watched a lot of 50's movies, particularly Marilyn Monroe. When I first started this show they really had no idea about my character so I just wanted to kind of have that persona of a 50's woman: what she would dress like, what she would act like, how she would carry herself, how she would act around a room full of men. That's what I did for my research.
CODY: I feel like my whole life I have been preparing for this role, because I've been such a huge Elvis fan my whole life. Sweet Inspirations, Elvis's backup singers, someone once told one of 'em, "You're real lucky." And she said, "No, I'm just blessed." I feel blessed because I didn't think this would ever happen to me, but I feel like I've been preparing for it my whole life. Kinda like Kelly did, I just looked at things and learned like that.
SCOTT: Well, I'm kind of backwards so I did a lot of research before I got the show, just because I love Cash. I listen to his music weekly, if not daily. I watch a lot of video. If there is a new book that comes out about him, I read it immediately. So I'm constantly doing research to stay as true to him as possible. I never want to look like a cartoon and I never want to feel like I am bringing me to it too much. Really my job is to pay tribute to him and to do him justice.
What's one of their songs that inspires you?
LEE: There's a really great tune that Carl wrote called Movie Magg, and Paul McCartney covered in on a solo album later on. He's talking about this small town guy taking this girl Maggie out to a movie. At the time, I had to put myself in the perspective of the 50's when he wrote this stuff and when it came out, and it really pushed the edge of what was kind of cute and doo-whoppy up to that point. He had an edge for me, in his guitar playing, and that song, I think with the sheer volume of the recording along with Blue Suede Shoes and Honey Don't and these other songs that he played and wrote, it shocked people. I just love the story that he tells and that it's maybe crossing some lines with the social mores of the time but he was definitely pushing the envelope of what was acceptable musically at that time.
JOHN: I really like Great Balls of Fire!, not to sound cliché but it's really a fun song to play and it really represents Jerry Lee in so many ways because all the boy wanted was to rock-n-roll, or whatever you want to call it at that time but that's what we call it now. But at the same time he was so conflicted internally about thinking that he was going to hell for playing this music and so Great Balls of Fire! literally epitomizes that just by the fact that he's rocking out while singing something that is theoretically a song that's talking about Pentecost. So it's so many things thrown all into one and it's watching him work that out on the piano in the only way he knew how to do it and its pretty wild.
KELLY: I love Long Tall Sally, it kind of jump starts the second half of the show and there is something about the energy that happens in that song, with the group, with everyone, that is really inspiring and it keeps us going for the second half of the show.
CODY: It's fun to do that song. Kelly, I never looked at it like that, jump starting the second half of the show, now I feel even better about it. (laughter) Um.. I don't know, they're all good. Kelly wails on songs like Fever, and I Hear You Knocking, which is amazing. Then Carl's got great songs and in every one of his songs you take away something different. I like it when we sing gospel songs, those are really nice. I don't know, the whole mix is very good and they are all pretty sharp.
SCOTT: I Walk the Line is my favorite song to perform in the show, it's also the most challenging for me to perform in the show. It has a lot of personal meaning for me, I think. I think we all try to walk a line somehow in our lives, whether it be with a loved one, or personal problems, or whatever. I think we all have that sort of philosophy. So that song means a lot to me and it meant a lot to him, it was really personal to him.
Do you think this is a musical that is bringing an appreciation of these legends to a new generation?
LEE: I would hope so! You know, not to get too political about it, but in the world of American Idol and the world where there is this cultural push that says all you have to do is learn one song, go up and sing it well, have your millions of friends and people vote on it and then you can be famous. These are guys that really did stuff. They wrote their songs, they worked it out for a long time, but they weren't very good for a long period of time until they got better. Hopefully that message gets through because we are actually playing all the notes that the audience hears. It has an authenticity that, I think, is really important for the younger people and the younger generation to experience.
JOHN: I really hope so just because I haven't been a longtime fan. I saw Jerry Lee for a 16th birthday in 2006, so of course he's a little bit older and he came up and he sat down and he didn't miss a note when he played. So for me that was a special moment to be able to see him in action. So now for me to do this show... it's such an honor to be able to. People that haven't seen Jerry Lee either that wanted to in the past or have never heard of him or people that had seen him before and are trying to relive the past a little bit, but I get to be that ambassador and bring that little touch to all of them and it's really nice.
KELLY: Yes! Definitely! We were just actually talking about that because Elvis has now been gone for 37 or 38 years and really this show is great because a lot of people come in and say, "Oh my gosh! My dad has to see this show!" if they are in their thirties or whatever. Or they are in their sixties and they say "We have to bring out grandkids!" It's just one of those shows that appeals to all ages and it's going to help bring the new generation up to speed about where rock and roll come from.
CODY: You look in the audience and there is a good mixture of folks. I know the young folks, they like the guitar and all that, and we all play live instruments in the show, so they get to hear that stomp that they get to hear in this new music too and they can kinda look at that and think maybe we should open our eyes a little more. A lot of these kids they like the rap or the different techno or whatever they call it today, but they are gonna love the rock-n-roll from the 50s. You can't not like it. So every time they come to see the show I guarantee that not one of them walk out saying they don't like that genre of music and if they hadn't seen the show they would feel that way.
SCOTT: Yeah. I mean, certainly I would say that a lot of our audience are people that either grew up in this time period or maybe ten or fifteen years after this time period, but more and more we are getting twenty-something rock-a-billy fans. Even then we get a lot of young families who have maybe five, six, seven, to fifteen year olds that come and they're sitting in the front row and I am like wow, I'm watching them mouth the words to something like Matchbox by Carl Perkins which, most of the adults who were alive then don't know that song. But some of these kids are very into it, so yeah I think it is. It's nice to be able to present something and have folks realize that this person influenced this person, who influenced the band that I like now.