Photo Flash: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET Surprises Audience in Austin
There was a unique opportunity in Austin, Texas last week. The Texas Performing Arts had a special evening to kick off its 2012-2013 season. They had many invited guests there learning about all the events coming and giving them the opportunity to purchase season tickets. The most anticipated announcement, however, seemed to be the announcement of the Broadway Across America shows that would come to Bass Concert Hall in Austin. Great shows like The Lion King and Billy Elliott were announced. Also announced was MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET. This was the featured surprise for the evening. The guests had no idea that members of the MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET cast were waiting in the green room to entertain everyone. But, before the performance, I had a chance to sit down and chat with the guys and learn more about MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET and the individuals who make the show spectacular.
The actors present were Dan Mills (Carl Perkins), Robert Shaw (Johnny Cash), Colte Julian (Jerry Lee Lewis) and Steve Benoit (Elvis Presley). Each is a star in his own right. Each brings an individual approach and experience to create the magic of the show.
Dan Mills (Carl Perkins) was busy with his band playing at small nightclub in NYC. One night people from MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET came in and heard him performing. They asked him if he wanted to be in a musical and Dan didn’t seem too impressed with the idea. Then, Dan found out what the play was about and who he would be playing. He was thrilled with the opportunity and has been enjoying its success ever since. Dan connected well with Carl Perkins because Carl Perkins was a songwriter just as Dan is and that helped him to relate better. As Dan said, “Carl Perkins is more of a loose cannon and a little bit of a hothead and I’m just kinda friendly. So I have to get really mean before I go on. I have to think really mean to come out sort of rough around The Edges.” Once Dan gets the guitar on, he starts to feel a little more like Carl Perkins. He also added that, “So many of his (Carl Perkins) songs were led by electric guitar that you’re just playing, running all around the stage. Carl’s pretty fired up a lot.” Dan currently understudies the role of Carl Perkins in NYC. When Dan is not busy playing Carl Perkins in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, he performs with his band around NYC. He has released two albums of original music. He also recently appeared on an episode of Smash and even got a kiss from Uma Thurman.
Robert Shaw (Johnny Cash) was with the Chicago cast of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET in 2009 before it moved to Broadway and a friend had sent him an audition listing on Craigslist and he auditioned. He got the part and has been performing with MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET off and on for a few years now. Robert has enjoyed singing Johnny Cash as well as Elvis for years and felt like this was a chance to use that history to make his character of Johnny Cash strong. “Playing Johnny Cash,” said Robert “is just like putting on a hat. It’s all right there.” His portrayal of Johnny Cash is great as he holds the guitar up just like Johnny Cash used to do and moves like him while onstage. As Robert continued to explain the magic of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, he gave credit to the writers and the ability they had to bring this historic evening to life. “It (MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET) pleases the diehard fans…but also your casual observer; a kid who doesn’t know anything about that culture will find a lot to be entertained with.” Robert also runs his own Production Company call Lonely Street Productions. He has been in shows in Arizona (where his company is based) including salutes to Johnny Cash, Elvis and a recent show saluting the Rat Pack.
Steve Benoit (Elvis Presley) lived in Nashville, TN and saw an advertisement in a local music paper. He had toured with another show called Ring of Fire which was a Johnny Cash musical. Steve has been a fan of the music all his life and has especially been an Elvis fan. The audition was just singing a few songs that he already knew. Steve said, “It’s a very unique show where they bring a lot of musicians into the theatre world.” When Steve plays Elvis he says, “I try not to come at it like trying to imitate him. I’m not an imitator. We’re paying tribute, it’s my homage. He’s been a musical idol since I was a kid. After listening to him so much and Johnny Cash as well, the music just seeps into you and you learn the little nuances. You may not look and sound exactly like him. When you bring part of yourself into it, you are channeling them in your own way. It comes out in the performance.” Steve is a talented musician on his own. He has released two independent albums that make you see his talent and his drive to be in the entertainment industry. Steve has performed with the cast in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET in NYC.
Colte Julian (Jerry Lee Lewis) told me that he came about MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET from the musical theatre side and was living in NYC at the time, auditioning for shows. Living on a farm in Oklahoma, he grew up listening to all the music from the show. He plays the piano and has been playing since he was 9 years old. Colte enjoys the role of Jerry Lee Lewis and finds it a big change from things he has done in the past. He spent more time on the piano as an accompanist so to be out there as Jerry Lee Lewis and his showmanship was new to Colte. He said that, “the first thing when I go onstage isn’t really to be aggressive but just to not care and just to let it go and to be completely relaxed. Some of the best advice I got when I was learning the show was like Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis and the way that they moved and the way that they acted, that’s just because that was the way they felt. They just felt the music so much, they went crazy.” Colte said, “It’s just getting to that neutral point and letting the music take over and take control” (Colte showed that while performing in Austin that night when he kicked over the piano stool and it crashed to the ground and broke). While attending college, Colte majored in piano and agriculture but later decided to pursue music professionally. He currently performs with the Chicago cast.
The performance portion of the evening was a real treat as well. Even though Dan, Robert, Steve and Colte had never performed all together until that evening, they performed seamlessly as if they had been working together for years. Each song was as if they had rehearsed a lot together to make it all go so smoothly. The audience was pleasantly surprised as the hostess of the evening announced the surprise performance of the MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET. People were dancing in in aisles and singing along with the music. And this was just a taste of what they will be seeing when the cast returns to Austin next year and performs at the Bass Concert Hall. It will be an evening to remember if you attend. The show is great for all ages and the music stands the test of time. The new season at the Bass Concert Hall is not to be missed. You can get season tickets for Broadway Across America in Austin by going to their website.
PHOTO CREDIT: Debi Gerwitz/Kathy Strain
Enjoying a chat
Steve and Colte
Dan and Robert
A great performance
Enjoying the show