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BWW Interview: Jason Cohen of GREAT BALLS OF FIRE at Seven Angels Theatre

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The concert pays tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis.

BWW Interview: Jason Cohen of GREAT BALLS OF FIRE at Seven Angels Theatre

There's going to be a whole lotta shakin' goin' on at the Seven Angels Theatre with Jason Cohen's Great Balls of Fire.

This show is about Jerry Lee Lewis, the original bad boy of rock 'n' roll, and his music. Cohen first played Lewis in 2015 in the national tour of Million Dollar Quartet, a show which imagines what might have happened when Lewis, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash were at the Sun Records studio in Memphis one day in 1956. Cohen couldn't shake off Lewis after the tour. Like Lewis, he was a self-taught musician. He knew little about Lewis when he was cast in Million Dollar Quartet, but did a lot of research about the legendary performer and later created this tribute concert in collaboration with Michael Schiralli.

What is it about Lewis that appealed to Cohen? Lewis's story was "interesting," he says. Like a lot of his contemporaries, he was so committed to his uniqueness. Back then, everyone was playing the guitar." Lewis played the piano and in a very distinctive style, often hunched over his instrument or on top of it. He had tremendous energy on stage. He adds that he never had that connection with other artists.

Lewis's life was not without controversies, but Cohen doesn't treat the show as tabloid fodder. It's about Lewis's contribution to the world of music. Lewis, now 86, was a pioneer of both rock 'n' roll and rockabilly music. Nicknamed "The Killer," he was a songwriter as well as one of the most influential pianists of the 20th century.

Cohen is a seasoned actor as well as musician, director, music director, and composer/lyricist. He earned a Bachelor's in fine arts from New York University's Tisch School of the Arts and further trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. His uses his training in Shakespeare in his performances because "those ideas are transferable to many materials," he explains. "I might not be actively working Shakespeare productions, but that training is in everything I do." He likens it to ballet and modern dance. The fundamentals are there, but it's a different way of approaching performing. In addition to the piano, he plays the guitar, double bass, electric bass, ukulele, and other instruments. He also arranges and conducts music.

Cohen appeared in the television series, Rise. In addition to touring in Million Dollar Quartet, he appeared in It's A Wonderful Life, Joseph and The Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story, The Drowsy Chaperone, Murder for Two, Once, and other shows.

Playing Lewis is one of the most challenging roles Cohen has played. The show runs 100 minutes without an intermission. "It's very physical," he says, "very demanding on your body and voice. It's not a role [when] you're having a bd day, you can slouch. You have to put that bad day aside, bring out that energy at night. It's super rewarding." He has developed friendships with his colleagues. "How great it is to wok with friends," he says because there's "a shared vocabulary. It elevates the rehearsal process." There's also "a shared trust," he maintains.

See Great Balls of Fire on October 23 at 8:00 p.m. at the Seven Angels Theatre, Plank Road, Waterbury. Tickets are $30.00. Visit www.sevenangelstheatre.org. Great Balls of Fire is a production of Emmett Productions. Visit www.emmettproductionsllc.com for more information about other tribute concerts.


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