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THE KING SPEAKS: THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET comes to Shea’s

(Preview) Prior to the arrival of THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, I spoke with CODY SLAUGHTER, who plays ELVIS PRESLEY in the National Tour.  Mr. Slaughter provides some wonderful insight about the show, his role and the reactions and impressions he has had thus far (see interview below.)  
The national tour of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, the Tony Award winning new musical inspired by the true story of four rock ‘n’ roll icons will make its Buffalo Premiere November 8 – 13 at Shea’s Performing Arts Center as part of the M & T Bank Broadway Series. 
In a nutshell: “On December 4, 1956, an auspicious twist of fate brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley together. The place was Sun Records’ storefront studio in Memphis. The man who made it happen was Sam Phillips, the “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” who discovered them all. The four young musicians united for the only time in their careers for an impromptu recording that has come to be known as one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll jam sessions of all time.
The legendary meeting was masterminded by Sun Records’ founder Sam Phillips, who discovered all four of the musicians, and brought Elvis Presley (and his then girlfriend) back to the recording studio that launched him to stardom. Together with Sun Records’ fast-rising new superstar Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, who was still chasing his next big hit after writing and recording Blue Suede Shoes, the fourth member of this impromptu “quartet” was Phillips’ latest signing, Jerry Lee Lewis. 
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET features over 20 classic hits including: Blue Suede Shoes, Folsom Prison Blues, Fever, Memories Are Made Of This, That’s All Right, Down By The Riverside, Sixteen Tons, (There Will Be) Peace In The Valley, I Walk The Line, I Hear You Knocking, Great Balls Off Fire, Honey Don’t, Hound Dog, Riders In The Sky, See You Later Alligator and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”
Now launched on a 20 city national tour, MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET has already been wowing audiences in London, New York and Chicago.  It has garnered almost universally high praise,  “The audience rises irresistibly to the beat of some mightily impressive and infectious rockabilly” wrote Ray Bennett of The Hollywood Reporter. (Which Mr. Slaughter confirms.)  The word of mouth has been terrific.
Little wonder that MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is a top-notch production. Broadway director Eric Schaeffer, the artistic director and co-founder of the highly regarded Signature Theatre in Washington DC, (recipient of the 2009 Regional Theatre Tony Award)  heads up the creative team,  which includes award winning co-authors Floyd Mutrux (American Hot Wax, Scarecrow (Best Film, Cannes), Hollywood Knights, Urban Cowboy, The Untouchables) and Grammy Winner Colin Escott (The Complete Hank Williams on Mercury Records).  Also on board, set designer Derek McLane has won multiple Tony Awards (The Miracle Worker, Ragtime, 33 Variations, The Pajama Game, Grease, I Am My Own Wife.)  The list goes on and on, be sure to take a moment and read your playbill, because this show has a remarkable pedigree. It’s not a hit by accident.
But THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is hardly about old theatrical war horses. A supercharged musical performance like this requires some young blood and red hot talent, amply supplied by DEREK KEELING as Johnny Cash, MARTIN KAYE as Jerry Lee Lewis, LEE FERRIS as Carl Perkins and CODY SLAUGHTER,  the winner of the 2011 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist competition, as you know who. Mr. Slaughter looks and sounds so much like Elvis Presley it’s a little spooky. Check him out on YouTube. 
Cody has been touring as Elvis for years (he started out at the age of 13). The Million Dollar Quartet, however, marks his first theatrical experience , and it’s a different kind of gig, as we discuss below.
Elvis-NY-Buffalo.jpg
INTERVIEW:
NE Garvey:  I gather you’ve been doing Elvis for a while now. 
Cody Slaughter: Yeah, you know I’ve been doing it for quite a while – this year I won the (2011 Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist) competition in Memphis. 
NEG: I saw that, congratulations. That is a huge competition. 
CS: Thank you, yes, there are contests from all around the world and those winners go on to compete in Memphis. It’s pretty wild. 
NEG: I have been watching some of your stuff on the internet, I have to say that you do it really,  really well. 
CS: I appreciate that, it’s all really from just being a fan.  A fan, not just of Elvis, but of his making it and all of that style.
NEG: When I see your videos, it seems to me like there’s more to it that just imitation.  How old are you?  
CS:  I am twenty years old.
NEG:  So Elvis had been dead for a decade when you were born.
CS: I remember being really young and coming across my dad’s cassette tapes, and listening to the music in the car, it wasn’t just Elvis but MoTown too, you know, old school stuff.
NEG: Wow, You were like, ten years old, that’s pretty eclectic stuff when your friends were listening to Green Day and Pearl Jam.
CS: Right! Right! Yeah!  I wasn’t like everyone else trying to keep up with styles of this and that, I was stuck in my own little world there – I would go to school with greasy hair and I didn’t look like anybody else there. (Laughs) 
NEG: Well, I guess good things can come from that kind of stuff. I have to say that watching some of your performances on YOU TUBE, it’s almost a little freaky – don’t take this the wrong way – but it reminded me a little of the great Canadian singer k.d. lang , who does Patsy Cline’s songs like nobody’s business. When you watch her on stage, it’s like she channels Patsy Cline, really, she’s like there on stage, still connected to the audience, but she herself has just gone – somewhere. She has this emotional touchstone with Cline, a really unique talent, In a way, you seem to have that kind of connection to Elvis too. 
CS: I can see what she’s saying about connecting with Patsy Cline. I am a very soulful person, I feel my soul is very alive,  and with love ones who have passed, I feel a connection there and when I am performing on stage I feel like I do have a connection with Elvis sometimes – I have it, but others do too. So yeah, before I go on stage I say a little prayer and I just go and let it take over.  
NEG: Well it’s amazing because it reads through.  That’s an especially important thing for actors, when you’re performing – and you’ve been touring as Elvis for years –  do you find that actually acting the role of Elvis is different – and are you able to tap into that same resource ?
CS: Yeah, it is different – I have always had this dream of being an actor.  I have done the Elvis stuff but I have also always wanted to be my own person, as an actor, so co
ming into this I was excited because I knew I could still do that same thing and just totally zone in and really get into character and let it go – but it’s definitely different – in the past I had spent a lot of time on the sides of acting and so now I get to bring it all on stage and kind of try it out. And it seems to be working, doing that same connection thing works. 
NEG: That inspirational ability also has to help when you’re doing that many shows — the Million Dollar tour runs to August of 2012 – that’s what?  Hundreds of shows? 
CS: We do one show a day during the week, two shows on the weekend days – then  Mondays is travel day, your day “off”, then we arrive wherever and we do it all over again. It’s a little more intense that I thought it would be.
NEG: Yeah,  those eight shows a week – can get to be a drain, and sometimes people are tempted to mail it in, so you need some connection, some kind of reserve to keep you up and moving – People have no idea how much work goes into a show like this.
CS: I know before I go on – it’s a cool show,  because the cast – the other people who are with you on stage,  you can count on them.  So even if I’m having an off day – I think what would Elvis do?  He’d  go out there, get up there and sing the song.  You put yourself in those shoes and you make it work no matter what the situation. And if you are having an off day then chances are the guy next to you is doing the best he’s ever done… and at the end of it, at the end of the whole show, I don’t think we’ve had even one crowd that wasn’t on its feet going crazy because we have such a good group of guys.  
NEG: The reviews have certainly been great.   I wonder about the show itself, the whole premise, the real story it’s based on – that kind of fortuitous meeting, although it  was  “set up” by Sam Phillips, it was nevertheless a pretty coincidental situation and you wonder with todays’ rock stars – with their agents and bodyguards and handlers and so on, do you ever wonder if any kind of an experience like that could happen again?  
CS: To me it seems that back then everything was so fresh and so new when Sam had this recording session for Carl Perkins. Sam was looking to find another hit for Carl,  who’d just had a hit with “Blue Suede Shoes,” which was good, but now it’s like “we gotta get Carl going.”  And for that session they had Jerry Lee Lewis on the piano, who wasn’t a big deal yet. Then Johnny Cash stopped by and then Elvis Presley came by – and they had this great jam session. And it really happened !  Which was so cool, but honestly, today do you think any of these big hot shots would all meet up in a room and jam for hours and sit by and not be paid for it and not have their entourage there? I don’t know, but I don’t think it will ever happen again like that.  
NEG:  One last question, I know folks who consider Elvis to be something of a religion.  Have you ever had strange experiences with fans setting aside reality? 
CS : (Laughs) Oh gosh… yeah, there have been a few… in my hometown (Harrison, Arkansas). I’ve walked out into the Walmart parking lot and I’ll see a fan, someone who’s seen the show, waiting in their car, and as I pull out I’ll see them follow me – I’ll pull off into a parking spot – and from behind – here she comes – following me down the road – I’ll get home and a little later,  that fan goes stormin’ on by. (Laughs again.)  
NEG: So you have your own Arkansas stalkers?!
CS:  You know what ? I guess I’d rather have some stalkers than have none. Kinda gives you some hope. There’ve been some wild rides, but when I think back about Elvis and Johnny and all those guys and what they went through… well, it’s not so bad. 
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, The National Tour at Shea’s Buffalo Performing Arts Center  November 8-13. For more information visit www.milliondollarquartetlive.com or www.sheas.org.

Written by Buffalo Rising

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