Interview: William Draper of ELVIS: A MUSICAL REVOLUTION at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

The East Coast premiere runs through June 24th.

By: May. 27, 2023
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Interview: William Draper of ELVIS: A MUSICAL REVOLUTION at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre

Elvis: A Musical Revolution is a brand new bio musical by Sean Cercone and David Abbinanti. The show explores the life of Elvis Presley from his humble beginnings in the south to his 1968 “Comeback Special” and includes over 40 hit songs. The very name Elvis evokes images and sounds that changed the history of music and culture forever. Audiences have the opportunity to see this new musical in its east coast debut at Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre through June 24th. William Draper plays adult Elvis in this exciting new production and took a few moments out of his schedule to chat with BroadwayWorld about how it feels to play “The King”.

BWW: Tell us a little about yourself.

Draper: I am originally from Memphis—born and raised. I grew up in the back country area south of Memphis on the border of Mississippi and Tennessee. As a kid I was really into the outdoors and sports. I grew up in a very southern home, where it was sort of expected that boys would play sports, so when I went to school, I started playing around with sports and didn’t really have any inclination toward theatre or music. But I was surrounded by music growing up where I did. I grew up listening to Elvis’s music because my grandparents are huge Elvis fans—it was a staple of my life listening to it on this giant record player with them.

BWW: When did you first decide you wanted to pursue acting?

Draper: I was probably in late elementary school—around 5th grade—and they were doing a cabaret show with a medley of musical numbers. Even though I was heavily involved in sports, this cabaret sounded like fun. The director was really great and guided me along this starting level of singing and acting. When I was younger, I struggled with ADHD and Tourette’s, which made it hard to sit still in a classroom. I discovered that acting was extremely powerful for me. When I was able to get fully immersed into a character, those problems disappeared for me on the stage. So, that’s when it all started, and I don’t think I missed a single show from that point on. It was something I never felt before—being able to turn my struggles into something I could use on stage.

BWW: What is your favorite role to date and why?

Draper: Cinderella’s Prince/The Wolf in Into the Woods. There’s music that’s just for entertainment, but Sondheim’s music serves a greater purpose, and that role is one where you can just step on stage and have fun, which really resonated with me. I played it in high school, and I loved the fact that you can just relax into the humor and silliness of the character. For me theatre is all about finding the moments where you are the most human and can be whatever you want. It was freeing.

BWW: Does portraying a historical person change how you prepare for your role at all and if so, how?

Draper: Absolutely. Usually, you can start from the bottom layer and build up and create your own character—how they walk and talk and view the world—it’s all discovery. With playing a historical figure you can’t make those choices—they’re made for you. So your job is to combine what is already there with what you as a person bring to the table. Research was a huge part of how I created my version of Elvis. Then I took that research and figured out how to relate it to myself.

BWW: How does it feel to play a real person?

Draper: The expectations are the hardest part. Everyone has a preconceived idea of how Elvis moves, looks, and sounds. People know what they want to see and hear, and you just hope that they can enjoy what you’ve done with it.

BWW: How has living in Memphis impacted your view of Elvis?

Draper: When I found out I got the role, my whole family was intrigued because Elvis was basically a household name living in Memphis. My family started telling me stories about how they went to his concerts, including some of his earliest. One of the best stories I learned was that when my mom was born, it was the day after Lisa Marie was born, and my grandfather remembers meeting Elvis in the hospital lobby. That was one of those things that just hit me so hard—here’s an icon everyone knows of as the King of Rock and Roll, but people who grew up in Memphis, actually had these real life experiences with him before and beyond him being The King. I’d been to Graceland so many times on school field trips—this place other people travel hundreds of miles to see. I realized that you really don’t think much about those experiences and stories until you live somewhere else and talk to people about it. 

BWW: What is your favorite Elvis song and why?

Draper: “Trouble”. I think it’s a very freeing song to hear and perform. You can just live in the lyrics and give a pure and emotional performance. It has a story to it, but the beat and lyrics and the way he performed it was a game-changer for music at the time. Back then, to hear something so raw and rock and roll was out of the world.

BWW: What is your favorite song to perform in the show and why?

Draper: There are so many songs—and of course not only did he do his own songs but he also did songs from other artists and made them hits. Two songs in the show that are really just fun are “Viva Las Vegas” and “All Shook Up”. They’re just fun to perform.

BWW: Did you learn anything new about Elvis from this show, and if so, what did you learn?

Draper: It’s not the happiest thing, but I really got a feel for the pressure he was under. The show ends with the Comeback Special. I learned about the pressure and the toll it took on him trying to provide for his family and fans. He was a provider—he grew up without a lot, and he didn’t ever want to see anyone else without. I learned that he just completely loved his fans and that the pressure of being the King of Rock and Roll was not an easy thing. It was a difficult thing for him to try to live with. He sacrificed a lot physically, emotionally, and mentally to give the fans what they craved from him.

BWW: What do you think audiences will enjoy most about the show?

Draper: There are a lot of moving parts. The ensemble and dancing are incredible. People will especially love the dancing—the choreographers just really took the ball on this musical that is brand new, and they created something that can be the basis for future productions. It’s amazing to watch them dance and move and create a timeline with their bodies.

BWW: If you could portray any other historical character who would it be and why?

Draper: As I think about this, I get stuck on this one person, and that is Frank Sinatra—another person I grew up listening to. I grew up listening to that full-voice classical singing. I think it would be a great story to get to tell as well—he had such a varied life.

BWW: Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

Draper: If you’re in the area, come see the show—it’s a fantastic show! It’s brand new, and we’ve put our hearts and souls into the acting, singing, and dancing. It’s an unique experience to be able to create something from the ground up, and it’s exciting that our audiences will get to be a part of that. This show will have a long history, and if you come see it at Dutch Apple, you’ll get to be one of its first audiences.

Join the Dutch Apple Dinner Theatre cast and crew for this exciting new show featuring numerous songs that will take you down memory lane and get your feet tapping. Tickets for Elvis: A Musical Revolution can be found at www.dutchapple.com.




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