Nostalgia, History, Talent Explode in World Premiere of HEARTBREAK HOTEL at Ogunquit Playhouse

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September 2017

Floyd Mutrux is one of the busiest and most brilliant writers, directors and producers, with a wonderfully cluttered and creative mind that spills into every facet of his stage productions, intent on providing his targeted audience with the ultimate entertainment experience.

Mutrux is the co-author of the Tony award-winning, record-setting, smash hit Million Dollar Quartet which graced the Ogunquit Playhouse stage in 2015 and 2016 and became the greatest selling show in Ogunquit Playhouse history—the perfect storm of creative development, artistic vision, superb talent and great minds.

So when it was time to unleash his next musical feat—the prequel to Million Dollar Quartet—it was no surprise that he chose Oqunquit Playhouse for the world premiere of Heartbreak Hotel.  It was also no surprise to see him in the audience as he continues to shepherd and tweak his creation.  And it’ll be no surprise when Heartbreak Hotel hits Broadway with a bullet.

Heartbreak Hotel provides a window into the early life of a teenage musician named Elvis Presley who “knew all the songs” but didn’t have his own style.  In 1953, coaxed by his girlfriend, Dixie Locke, Elvis cut a record at Sun Recording Studio as a birthday gift for his mother. Sun Studio Owner Sam Phillips then introduced Elvis to guitarist Scotty Moore and bassist Bill Black and The Blue Moon Boys was born.

A year later, the trio was back in the studio, still with no unique sound—until an impromptu version of “That’s All Right” immediately impressed Phillips—enough to sign Elvis and The Blue Moon Boys to a record contract.  And the rest, as they say, is history.

With the addition of drummer DJ Fontana, Elvis and his band didn’t take long to inject their newly-created style of music—rockabilly—into the world of clubs, radio and television appearances in Tennessee, Louisiana and Texas. With a backdrop of racial inequality and civil unrest, the fusion of rhythm & blues and rockabilly created a toxic new style of rock ‘n roll (“race music”) that appealed to blacks and whites, girls and boys alike—which instantly made Elvis popular and controversial.

In 1955, Colonel Tom Parker, a former carnival barker from the Netherlands who came to America to make his fortune, became Elvis’ official manager.  Soon after, in January of 1956, Elvis signed a contract with RCA Records whose first label release was Mae Axton’s “Heartbreak Hotel.” Next up: His buddy Carl Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes.”

Elvis was in the fast lane on a rapid journey toward his unsuspecting destiny.  Milestones from the ’54 – ’58 years:  The Blue Moon Boys were no longer part of his deal but continued their own careers, he catapulted into Hollywood fame, his girlfriend left him, he bought a more suitable home called Graceland, and he would soon join the Army where he would meet Priscilla Beaulieu, his future wife.

This was the point in the show, minutes shy of the end, that felt like a natural culmination to a wonderful musical “rockabillyumentary” and a perfect cliffhanger for Part III of the trilogy (read on). A few hasty (and questionably relevant) scenes followed while a heavier dose of projections evoked images of the looming racial divide, followed by an almost out-of-place mini-set of patriotic hymns…which eventually led to a tentative ending.

But the cast put an exciting flashmob-like button on the show with an all-out dance party/concert that had the audience instantly on their feet for a tasty encore.  Suddenly, The Ogunquit Playhouse became John Lane’s Starlight Dance Hall filled with swooning patrons and adoring “young” Elvis fans.

The entire cast was phenomenal.  Eddie Clendening, who originated the role of Elvis in the Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet, shines anew in Heartbreak Hotel.  It doesn’t get any better.  Clendening captured the naiveté of a carefree young man who grew in confidence and humanity with each new experience, and with perfect balance of emotions to disguise his happiness.

The Blue Moon Boys are expertly played by Matt Codina as Guitarist Scotty Moore, Nathan Yates Douglass as Bassist Bill Black and Jamie Pittle as Drummer DJ Fontana…the perfect rockabilly combo.

As is often the case with musicals, the Ensemble is superbly versatile, entertaining, masters of their stage craft with vocal talent beyond belief.  Case in point:  Berlando Drake, Terita Redd and Geno Henderson—a dynamic show-within-the-show with powerhouse interpretations of numerous recording artists; Brenna Bloom is Marion, Erin Burniston is Dixie Locke and Fallon Goodson is Alice from Dallas.

Matt McKenzie and Jerry Kernion are well-suited for their roles as Sam Phillips and Colonel Tom Parker (respectively), and Christopher Sutton easily handles the role of Dewey Phillips, amusingly weaving narration in-between radio announcements.

The music is predictably sensational.  Heartbreak Hotel features a buffet of classic hits made famous by the King of Rock ‘n Roll and many legends who influenced his music…the soundtrack of life for many.

Aesthetically, the set design is striking, and even more stunning to watch the multi-function, fast-moving backdrops effectively frame scenes and change performing venues, with crisp lighting effects and projections of nostalgic video and graphics.  Bravo to Scenic Designer Adam Koch, Lighting Designer Richard Latta and Projection Designer Brad Peterson.

And the inside scoop is Floyd Mutrux’s announcement in the program that the third part of the Sun Records Trilogy is called Blue Suede Shoes and “will be coming your way in the not too distance future.”

Heartbreak Hotel runs through September 30th.  Ogunquit Playhouse is located at 10 Main Street in Ogunquit, ME 03907.  FMI: or 207.646.5511.


–Louis Philippe for the Biddeford Journal Tribune


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