Review: Heartbreak Hotel (Broadway in Chicago)

| July 20, 2018

Eddie  Clendening stars as Elvis in Heartbreak Hotel, Broadway in Chicago Broadway Playhouse           


Heartbreak Hotel 

Written & Directed by Floyd Mutrux
Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut (map)
thru Sept 9  |  tix: $35-$75  |  more info
Check for half-price tickets   


Now extended thru September 9th!  

Don’t leave ‘til the rock stops rollin’


Eddie  Clendening stars as Elvis in Heartbreak Hotel, Broadway in Chicago Broadway Playhouse

Broadway in Chicago presents
Heartbreak Hotel

Review by Johanna Dalton

From the first notes of Heartbreak Hotel a good portion of the audience is foot-tapping and clapping along, and the rock n’ roll fandom reception continues from there. As the pre-quel to the immensely successful Million Dollar Quartet, this Chicago premiere of the production turns the page back to the period from 1954 to 1957, when Elvis Presley (Eddie Clendening), with the urging of his girlfriend Dixie, first presents himself at Sun Records as the shy, somewhat awkward singer/guitar player with the funny name. The music of which he would become The King, had not yet found its name. But there is a glimmer of stars, and with Presley’s introduction to the head of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, they begin to align.

Eddie Clendening  and Erin Burniston  star as Elvis and Dixie Locke in Heartbreak Hotel, Broadway ChicagoThe tale of Presley’s early rise to fame is not an unusual one. The pull of stardom is hard to resist, and forces Presley, like many before him, to choose what he will hold on to. The backdrop of the history of the time lends a sobering note: headlines decrying racial injustice, civil unrest, anti-war protests, all shout on beyond the music that seems to be loud and high-energy enough to shut it out. These include reminders of the charges of “lewd” behavior that followed Presley’s gyrating performances as well as references to the “race music” which served as the roots of what became rock and roll.

Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley), who initiated the starring role of Elvis in Million Dollar Quartet, does a masterful job of portraying the shyly charming guy who transforms into a spellbinding performer with a sweet and tender voice on stage. Clendening doesn’t oversell as he hits Presley’s signature low, velvet tones as well as the hip swinging, leg-shaking moves we all love. Jerry Kernion (Colonel Tom Parker) plays the slow-talking, glad-handing promoter that launches Presley to stardom—via the controversial, most-watched-of-all time Ed Sullivan Show appearance—as well as to his eventual addictions. Matt McKenzie (Sam Phillips) looks the part of the real Sam Phillips, who facilitated the hillbilly/rockabilly crossover to rock and roll, and is convincing as a mentor who really cares about Presley.

Geno Henderson stars as Chuck Berry in Heartbreak Hotel, Broadway in Chicago Eddie Clendening and Jerry Kernion star as Elvis and Colonel Tom Parker in Heartbreak Hotel, Broadway ChicagoMatt Codina (Scotty Moore), Eddie Clendening (Elvis) and Zach  Lentino (Bill  Black) star in Heartbreak HotelMatt Codina (Scotty Moore), Katherine Lee Bourne (Rosetta Tharpe), Takesha Meshe Kizart (Ruth Brown), Geno Henderson Eddie  Clendening stars as Elvis in Heartbreak Hotel, Broadway in Chicago

Clendening is supported by a highly-talented group of artists. Although relegated to a variety of typically incomplete tunes, Geno Henderson (Jackie Wilson, BB King, Ike Turner & Others) gives a fine performance that would be easy to overlook. Matt Codina (Scotty M3oore) on guitar, Jamie Pittle (drums), and Zach Lentino (Bass/Bill Black) who make up the Blue Moon band are all superb. Lentino is a standout, doing amazing things with his bass, including using it as a platform!  Katherine Lee Bourne (Rosetta Tharpe) and Takesha Meshe Kizart (Ruth Brown) pack powerful voices with a passion that stirs and delights. The sound production, however, at times seems to make their high notes a tad wiry. The costumes bring the audience right back into the 50’s, as does DJ Fontana (Jamie Pittle) whose radio DJ banter moves the action forward. There are a couple of rough edges to the somewhat thin story line. We learn of the origin of Blue Suede Shoes and the connection to Carl Perkins. I would have liked to know more about those early-days choices, how Dixie affected his life, if indeed there is more to a story we all know so well. But despite a few glitches with lighting and transitions, the creative team all together produce a satisfying musical theater experience that culminates resoundingly in the second half.

The audience is on their feet as the cast takes their bows, and the 20 minute spectacular finale that follows keeps them there with a montage of a few of The King of Rock and Roll’s greatest hits. You don’t want to leave early!

Rating: ★★★

Heartbreak Hotel continues through August 8th September 9th at Broadway Playhouse, 175 E. Chestnut (map), with performances Tuesdays-Fridays at 7:30pm, Saturdays and Sundays 2pm & 7:30pm.  Tickets are $35-$75, and are available by phone (800-775-2000) or at (check for availability of half-price tickets). More information at time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)

Eddie  Clendening stars as Elvis in Heartbreak Hotel, Broadway in Chicago at Broadway PlayhouseMatt Codina (Scotty Moore), Eddie Clendening (Elvis) and Zach Lentino (Bill Black) star in Heartbreak Hotel

Photos by Brett Beiner




Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley), Jerry Kernion (Colonel Tom Parker), Geno Henderson (Jackie Wilson, BB King, Ike Turner, others), Matt Codina (Scotty Moore), Matt McKenzie (Sam Phillips), Colte Julian (Dewey Phillips), Zach Lentino (Bill Black), Jamie Pittle (DJ Fontana, Drums), Erin Burniston (Dixie Locke), Darcy Jo Wood (Marion Keisker), Katherine Lee Bourne (Rosetta Tharpe, others), Takesha Meshe Kizart (Ruth Brown, others), Andrea Collier (Sally Wilbourn, others), Alicia McCracken Morgan (Gladys, ensemble), Chuckie Benson, Briana Bower (understudies), Tommy Malouf (swing)

behind the scenes

Floyd Mutrux (playwright, director),  Birgitte Bjorum (choreography), Adam Koch (scenic design), Dustin Cross (costume design), Jason Lyons (lighting design), Drew Levy (sound design), Daniel Brodie (projection design), John R. Banister, Keith Harrison (orchestrations and arrangements), Tom Vendafreddo (music direction), Eisenberg/Beans (casting), TINC Productions (production management), Lucia Lombardi (production stage manager), Jennifer Graves (company manager), KGM Theatrical, Daniel Kuney (general management), Bradford T. Kenney (creative producer), Authentic Brands Group (producer), Brett Beiner (photos)

Heartbreak Hotel cast at Broadway Playhouse, Broadway in ChicagoMatt Codina (Scotty Moore), Eddie Clendening (Elvis) and Zach  Lentino (Bill Black)


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Category: 2018 Reviews, Broadway in Chicago, Broadway Playhouse, Johanna Dalton, Musical, Video, YouTube

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