BWW Interviews: James Barry of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET

BWW Interviews: James Barry of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
James Barry as Carl Perkins in the National Tour of
Million Dollar Quartet (Photo by Paul Natkin)

Million Dollar Quartet, the musical about an iconic day in the history of music, opens at Tennessee Performing Arts Center this week. In a city so full of music, Million Dollar Quartet is set to fit right in. James Barry plays music legend Carl Perkins in the show and has been kind enough to take some time out of his schedule to answer a few questions for our readers.

BWW: "King of Rockabilly" Carl Perkins has such a role in country music as well as in modern music in general. You've been playing Perkins for a while now. Do you see anything of your own personality in your character, or vice versa?

JAMES BARRY: It's sure easy for me to let myself revel in the whole-hearted joy of music making Carl possessed! I strive to honor his generosity and positivity, onstage and off. One of the most inspiring things to me about Carl Perkins was his choice to remain grateful for all that life had given him, even when it seemed to outsiders that he had gotten the short end of some pretty raw deals in his career. While the story of our play deals with Carl at an intensely difficult chapter in his life and career, I endeavor to fill my performance with as much of the man's big hearted warmth and good humor as I can.

BWW: Million Dollar Quartet refers to a specific day that happened in Memphis, in which some of the biggest and best names of country music joined together for a recording session in Memphis. Why do you think it was important to capture that event in the form of a staged production?

JAMES BARRY: I think part of the reason that day (12/4/56) has become so legendary and idealized is because it was the only time those four men were in the same place at the same time. They were all so young, and already at such different places in their careers from each other. What music lover wouldn't have loved to have been a fly on the wall at Sun Studios that day? That's what we strive to provide with Million Dollar Quartet. Insight into the human beings behind the icons.

BWW: Being in Music City, USA while being a part of a show so steeped in country music seems like it might be an experience in itself. Do you expect the audiences to be different from those in other areas of the country?

JAMES BARRY: We have played in Memphis, and I was really nervous because I wanted so badly to do justice to a story that that town has ownership of. I was so touched by the pride that town had in what we were doing by honoring 4 of their heroes. Nashville knows their music like no place on earth, and I anticipate a wonderful week there. It will be such an honor to pay tribute to Carl Perkins in a town that still holds his memory dear.

BWW: How did you find yourself in the world of musical theatre as a career? Was this something you knew you wanted from a young age, or did you fall into it "by accident"?

JAMES BARRY: Well, I always have acted in plays, and I always played guitar and sang in rock bands. I never thought those two worlds would merge for me! I feel so lucky that I get to do both things I love in MDQ.

BWW: Throughout your career you've had the chance to work on some amazing projects and with some amazing people, including the chance to be a part of the original Broadway (and off-Broadway) cast of Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson as well as being a part of the world premiere of Arms on Fire by Steven Sater and Duncan Sheik, the team behind Tony Award winning Spring Awakening. All of these shows seem to be along the same vein of breaking the "traditional" musical sound and story line. Do you find yourself searching for roles and shows that are different, or do they seem to find you?

JAMES BARRY: Actor/musicians are more in demand than ever before. So much theatre is being created these days that requires performers to provide the music as well as the story telling. I feel so fortunate to have a skill set that is suddenly in demand. I don't have what they call in traditional musical theatre a "legit" voice. You won't find me playing the Phantom of the Opera or Jean Valjean. Rock and roll has finally seemed to find a permanent home in American theatre. I love being a part of theatre that breaks tradition and pushes the envelope, and I have been extremely lucky to be a part of some shows that have done just that in the past few years.

BWW: You have worked on a wide range of shows, both new works and shows that have already been created. Do you have a favorite to work with? Or do you have reasons for enjoying each?

JAMES BARRY: I definitely enjoy both. I love working! New works are special, because you are part of the process form the ground up. Things you and your cast mates dream up can have a big impact on the final product. You often work closely with the writers as they reshape things when you do a new work, which I really dig. I love doing shows that are already institutions as well, like MDQ. As a performer you can pay tribute to the great actors who have played the part before you, and you can put your own twist on it.

BWW: I love to ask all my interviewees this question: If you could perform (act and/or sing) with anyone, living or not, who would it be? What would you perform?

JAMES BARRY: John Lennon. Whatever he wants.

BWW: Now the challenge. Please share what our readers can expect when they come to see Million Dollar Quartet... in ten words or less.

JAMES BARRY: A loud love letter to the Mt. Rushmore of Rock!

Thank you again to James Barry! You can catch Million Dollar Quartet at Tennessee Performing Arts Center May 6 - 11. You can purchase tickets on their website or by calling the box office at 615-782-4040.

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