EXCLUSIVE: Heartbreak Hotel, a new musical that follows Elvis Presley’s career from unknown singer to chart-busting star, will tryout this summer at the Ogunquit Playhouse, a venerable straw hat-circuit venue in southern Maine. Then it will head south, aiming for Broadway.
Or maybe not. It depends on which of the producers you ask.
The show is the brainchild of Floyd Mutrux, who had an international moneymaker as co-author of Million Dollar Quartet, the jukebox musical built around a legendary 1956 recording session that brought together Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis Johnny Cash and Presley at Sun Records, the Memphis studio run by Sam Phillips. (The musical is still touring the UK.) Heartbreak Hotel is a prequel tracing The King’s salad days, coming under Phillips’ wing before hitching his star to manager Col. Tom Parker.
Mutrux, whose credits also include the Fifties-to-Sixties album show Baby, It’s You, wrote and is directing the new venture. Performances are slated to begin August 30 in Ogunquit and run for a month; it’s where Million Dollar Quartet also was performed, and artistic director Brad Kenney is serving as “creative producer.” It was workshopped earlier this year at the Coast Playhouse, an Equity Waiver theater in West Hollywood.
The show is being underwritten by co-producers Elvis Presley Enterprises, a unit of Authentic Brands Group, and Heartbreak King Productions, whose head, Scott Prisand, co-produced the lucrative ode to 80’s alleged music Rock Of Ages on Broadway.
“I met Floyd when Baby, It’s You was playing across the street from Rock of Ages,” Prisand said in a telephone interview. “He’s just a great character – he lives in L.A., wears bright red clogs and has long gray hair and has written five musicals, all based on true stories about the music that made rock and roll. He wrote the Elvis story and then broke it in half – and decided to do the second part first. How rare is it to have a prequel to a musical that’s so successful?” (Finding Neverland comes to mind – but perhaps that’s a cautionary tale.)
Prisand is optimistic about the prospects for Heartbreak Hotel. “This is a more narrated story than MDQ,” he said. “It’s about how Elvis records ‘That’s All Right’ for his mama, then betrays his band manager and betrays Sam Phillips when Colonel Parker story enters the story. It’s a much more recognizable name and the exciting part is that we were able to partner with Elvis Presley Enterprises. We’re an EPE-stamped show.”
The songlist is still being set, but it will include the title number, along with “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Shake, Rattle & Roll” and “That’s All Right.”
Million Dollar Quartet, he said, ran seven years at Chicago’s Apollo Theatre, spawning a tour that led to the Broadway production. “MDQ made a lot of money for a lot people all over the country,” Prisand said. “In an ideal world, we’ll return to Chicago and then tour. New York could be a stop on the tour, but while we’re not ruling it out, it’s not in our plan.”
Maybe not Prisand’s plan, but his licensing partner begged to disagree.
“The goal is to get it on Broadway,” Corey Salter, exec vice-president for Celebrity & Entertainment at Authentic Brands Group, the owner of Elvis Presley Enterprises, said in a separate telephone interview. “If it’s a hit on Broadway, it’ll be bigger than any movie.”
That’s the view of any international entertainment company appraising the money-minting, sky’s-the-limit possibility of a megahit like The Lion King and Wicked, both produced on Broadway with significanrt Hollywood underwriting. Authentic brands represents Shaquille O’Neill and the estate of Muhammad Ali, among other name-brand global figures. “Million Dollar Quartet made money, and it was great, and had no negativity about Elvis,” Salter said. “But it was no Jersey Boys or Lion King.”
Will Heartbreak Hotel score on that rarefied plane? Plan a trip to southern Maine at summer’s end and then place your bets.