It’s a lump in throat moment when we get to glimpse why writer and director Floyd Mutrux (perhaps best known to Chicago audiences as the creator of The Million Dollar Quartet ) chose to put his heart and pen time on Heartbreak Hotel. Powerhouse singer Takesha Meshe Kizart --who has been regaling us with her vocal power in Gospel and Rock N’Roll style—summons our attention with a mélange of anthem and patriotic tunes with the seasoned voice of a trained opera singer opening a baseball game. Behind her a larger than life projection of the American flag is waving- as a mosaic of iconic images from the Civil Rights protests flashes by.
Yes, he was “Elvis the Pelvis” and “Marlon Brando with a guitar”, but in short conversation with Mutrux at the conclusion of the performance he shared that this is EXACTLY why he took on this work--- to show Elvis as the crossover White Guy who took what was called “race music” and made it mainstream across color lines. Mutrux’ Elvis is not just the sexpot the girls drooled over. Rather, he is the guy who gurgled below the racial tension and stirred the pot every time he played for mixed race audiences.
Broadway in Chicago Transforms Million Dollar Quartet Formula for Big Hall
Regular Chicago theater-goers might find themselves comparing this production to both the long running Million Dollar Quartet and the recent Porchlight Musical Theatre production of Memphis that took on this same subject of music and race but through the lens of a compelling love story. Perhaps even more, many will be reminded of Black Ensemble Theatre’s many musical biopics. The script basically tells the tale of Elvis’ rise from truck driver to rock legend so oft told- - but this one without much focus on Mom and more focus on his relationship with Sam Phillips (performed both sensitively yet sized for a Broadway Playhouse theater by Matt McKenzie) and hustler Colonel Tom Parker (brought to life so well we take a distaste to him, by actor Jerry Kernion).
If you love Elvis music THIS IS YOUR SHOW!!! You will find nothing lacking in Elvis look-alike and sound alike Eddie Clendening and you will bathe in the oldies and goldies so Elvis trademarked.
More, you will get the tunes of the times sung by the aforementioned Kizart with fellow girl singer Katherine Lee Bourné and also by Geno Henderson playing a long list of famous Black singers who couldn’t go where Elvis went because they just weren’t white enough – from Chuck Berry to Little Richard. This reviewer just couldn’t get enough of Henderson--his cameos all shining moments.
Special kudos also to Projection Designer Daniel Kodie, whose touch helped keep the story line moving forward and certainly right-sized this production for the larger theater space compared to the more intimate staging of Million Dollar Quartet.
Note: This is now added to the Picture this Post round up of BEST PLAYS IN CHICAGO. Click here to read —Top Picks for Theater in Chicago NOW – Chicago Plays PICTURE THIS POST Loves.
Eddie Clendening, Jerry Kernion, Matt McKenzie, Geno Henderson, Matt Codina, Colte Julian, Zach Lentino, Jamie Pittle, Erin Burniston, Darcy Jo Wood, Katherine Lee Bourné, Takesha Meshé Kizart, Andrea Collier, Alicia McCracken Morgan, Chuckie Benson, Briana Bower, Tommy Malouf and Zach Sorrow as understudies/swings.
HEARTBREAK HOTEL is written and directed by Floyd Mutrux.
Creative Team: Birgitte Bjorum (Choreography), Adam Koch (Scenic Design), Jason Lyons (Lighting Design), Drew Levy (Sound Design) and Daniel Brodie (Projection Design), John R. Banister and Keith Harrison (Orchestrations and Arrangements) and Tom Vendafreddo (Music Direction).
Thru September 9
See Heartbreak Hotel performance schedule online
Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place
175 E. Chestnut
For tickets visit the Broadway in Chicago website.
Photos courtesy of Broadway in Chicago.
Note: An excerpt of this review appears in Theatre in Chicago