Wharton show to detail legendary rock 'n' roll jam session
Unlike the many amateur Elvis Presley look-alikes who imitate the famed musician, Billy Woodward is making a career out of his Presley impersonations.
“I’ve always been a big Elvis fan,” Woodward said. “I come from a musician’s world, so he has influenced me in my music, and being able to pay homage to who he is is a dream come true.”
The new musical production tells the story of four of the country’s most influential rock music icons — Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
“These are the grandfathers of rock ‘n’ roll,” Wharton Center’s Public Relations Manager Bob Hoffman said. “It’s a rock ‘n’ roll show, (and) it’s going to be a blast.”
The show is set on Dec. 4, 1956, when Sam Phillips, the man responsible for launching the careers of Presley, Cash, Lewis and Perkins, gathered the four legendary artists at Sun Record Company in Memphis, Tenn.
This was the first and only time the group was gathered together, and the night later become known as one of the greatest jam sessions of all time, Hoffman said.
He said this production is particularly unique because it is based on an actual event, unlike many other Broadway shows that often are based entirely on fiction.
“I’m excited because shows like this are a lot of fun,” Hoffman said. “What’s special about it is it is based on a true story.”
The production features many of the musicians’ most well-known songs, including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Hound Dog.”
“It’s timeless music,” Hoffman said. “It wasn’t my (generation’s music), but I certainly know all the songs.”
Woodward said he hopes the show’s repertoire of classic tunes will help create more interest among MSU students.
“It’s a great thing for people in college to come see because it’s what created all the music that we listen to now,” he said. “I don’t foresee anywhere else where you can see a legitimate 1950s rock show.”
Woodward said he hopes to shed some light on the true story of his idol’s life through each of his performances by combining his musical background as a member of the rock ‘n’ roll band, Billy Woodward & The Senders, with his extensive knowledge of Presley and the legend’s work.
“One thing I really wanted to do was humanize Elvis because he’s been built up as a character at this point (in history),” Woodward said. “I wanted to show him for who he was — a southern boy. At the end of the day, he’s just a true-blue southern boy.”
Theatre junior Tim Smela said he appreciates how “Million Dollar Quartet” provides an opportunity for its viewers to explore the stories of its cast members.
“It looks at the lives of very famous musicians and tells their story from a different perspective,” Smela said. “A lot of people assume they know a lot of things about (the artists), but getting to see them behind the scenes, live in a theatrical setting is interesting to me.”
This is an opportunity Smela said he plans to take advantage of by visiting Wharton Center this weekend to see the production. He said he hopes other students will do the same.
“Having a professional theater company on campus is a huge benefit not only to theater students but to the whole student body,” he said. “I wish more people would take advantage of it. It’s a good night out, and it’s taking advantage of an opportunity that we might not have later in life.”