Million Dollar Quartet at Welk Resort Theatre–A Behind-the-Scenes Look
What if you could watch Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins come alive before your eyes? With Million Dollar Quartet, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, you can. Now through December 31, 2017, the smash-hit musical is back at the spacious, 2,300-seat Welk Resort Theatre in Branson, Missouri.
This toe-tapping musical is inspired by the true story of one fateful Memphis night—arranged by the “father of rock ‘n roll”, Sam Phillips—that brought four of music’s most iconic stars together for shared studio time at Sun Records. What resulted was a superstar jam session whose legend is carried on by Million Dollar Quartet, the over-the-top tribute to that one-of-a-kind night.
The longtime success of this show is no coincidence—a lot goes into making it all happen. Of course, none of it is possible without the four main talents and the actors who play them. “It’s a musical for everyone,” says Dathan Atchison, the show’s producer. “Including people who normally say, ‘We don’t like musicals.’”
This wide-reaching draw comes in large part from four Million Dollar Quartet icons and the musical legacy they left behind. Our team had the privilege of sitting down with the actors behind these roles to get an inside look at what it takes to play these heroes on stage, week in, week out.
Tyler K. Hunter, who plays Elvis Presley, reflected on the opportunity to portray The King of Rock. “I never thought I’d be blessed enough to portray him every night. It is truly an honor. Took a lot of hard work and dedication. Studying all his films, footage and documentaries. But it was fun.”
Hard work, indeed. Throughout the show, Hunter is tasked with performing famous Elvis hits like “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Hound Dog.” So there’s quite a bit of preparation to get things just right. “Typically just warming up on stage with everyone. Going over notes, and a lot of hair and makeup to prepare. We usually get together and sing a song in private to warm up and kind of set the mood for the night.”
Things are no easier, nor any less inspiring, for Cliff Wright, who plays Johnny Cash. “I think the biggest connection with Johnny Cash I have is our spiritual side. He loved gospel hymns and most importantly he loved the Lord. And, like Johnny, I also have a deceased brother.”
Like many fans of The Man in Black, Wright connects with the heartfelt, human aspect of Cash’s lyrics. But few of us could ever imagine playing this superstar rockstar on the big stage. “I never really thought I would portray Johnny Cash. It’s a dream come true every night I step on stage. It took a lot of listening and studying of how Johnny Cash carried himself, as well as how he would sing. Even now, I go to the theater early, warm up with the cast and some original Johnny Cash recordings.”
Presley, Cash—can this lineup get any better? How about the killer himself—the pioneer of rockabilly—Jerry Lee Lewis, played by John Countryman. You couldn’t dream up an actor with a better name for playing an American rock ‘n roll star. But Countryman shares more in common with Jerry Lee Lewis’s music than a fitting name.
“I taught myself how to play the piano by listening to Jerry Lee’s records and trying to emulate his style. I never thought I would portray my musical idol on stage, and it has been a real honor to do so for the last five years. I’m not really sure if there is anybody out there today that has as much influence on me as Jerry Lee Lewis does. His style, demeanor, approach to stardom—it’s as unique now as it was 60 years ago when he got started with Sun Records.”
Brad Waters has a similar connection to his role, Carl Perkins. “Carl and myself both came from country life in the south and the soul of the music that came with it. I never would dream that I would be performing Carl Perkins six nights a week on stage for a living. It’s such an honor!” Like his fellow stagemates, Waters does a lot of work to get into Perkins’ shoes. “Playing his records, watching YouTube videos and just keep trying to put myself where Carl might have been on his way in the music business.”
It’s a talented and committed cast at the core of this year’s production of Million Dollar Quartet. And the timing of the show’s third return to the Welk Resort Theatre couldn’t be better: it coincides with a new television series on CMT, “Sun Records,” which is based on the story behind Sam Phillips and the Million Dollar Quartet. It also coincides with the opening of a new building at The Lodges at Timber Ridge by Welk Resorts, making it the perfect time to book a stay to go along with your show. The show itself will run through the end of the year, with all shows beginning at 8 p.m.
Tickets are available by phone at 800.505.9355 or online at MDQBranson.com.
“It is been an absolute blessing for me,” says Tyler Hunter. “Welk is a very family-oriented business and environment. Our families are always welcome which makes things a lot more comfortable for us. As well as the nice staff. It’s a good feeling to know that the people you work with every day that are overseeing things make sure that you’re taken care of.”