Reviewed by Justin Williams

Photos: Brett Beiner

Highly Recommended

Serving as a prequel to the mega hit musical Million Dollar Quartet, Heartbreak Hotel follows Elvis through his early years of his career where he and Sam Phillips created the beginnings of the King’s career. During the rapid rise to fame Elvis both boosts and tears apart the lives of those he loved, a not well known romance is uncovered, betrayal, and of course “Colonel” Tom Parker sways the course of history. All of this happens in the first 18 months of Elvis’s career.

Heartbreak Hotel, which has officially opened at the Broadway Playhouse, is an absolute gem of a show. Its simplicity of both story and design allow for an evening of pure enjoyment. For those who may not know a lot about the life of Elvis, even those who might think they know all there is, there is plenty to take away from this show.

The King of Rock and Roll is played by Eddie Clendening who originated the role of Elvis in the Broadway production of Million Dollar Quarter (reprising the role at the Apollo Theatre) as well as originating Elvis in Heartbreak Hotel at the Ogunquit Playhouse in Maine. Suffice to say, Clendening IS Elvis. From the moment he enters to his last “Thank ya very much” he uses every ounce of energy to gyrate that pelvis and TCB. Having grown up watching Elvis impersonators, it was a breath of fresh air to see something that was human. Impersonators tend to get caught up in the glitz and glamor. Clendening lives and breathes Elvis.

Jerry Kernion plays the slimy, arrogant, deceitful, self –proclaimed “Colonel” Parker. Mr. Kernion plays the part so well that I found myself laughing at almost everything he told Elvis, fans of Elvis will understand why, those who don’t will find out. Geno Henderson plays an array of characters from Jackie Wilson to B.B. King to Ike Turner and does so with ease and personality. His voice is smooth as silk but unfortunately I felt that there was some trouble with his microphone that prevented him from being heard while he was working in his great falsetto.

Erin Burniston plays the not so well known love interest Dixie Locke, who was Elvis’ high school sweetheart.. She plays the role with confidence and determination. Her version of CANT HELP FALLING IN LOVE  is a very enjoyable showcase for both her voice and character.

Matt Codina, Zach Lentino and Jamie Pittle make up the Blue Moon Boys who back Elvis in the early years, and boy can these guys play. Special shout out to Mr. Lentino for some of the most entertaining standup bass playing I have seen in a long time.

the scenic design by ADAM KOCH Adam Koch’s scenic design is effective in its minimalism, using screens to project images, designed by Daniel Brodie of locations and newspaper clippings, as well as a few set pieces that roll on and off. Floyd Mutrux strikes gold again with this script who has a skill for creating seamlessly flowing scripts that don’t leave stones unturned.

Growing up an Elvis fan I have always enjoyed learning about him. Elvis is truly a fascinating study of rags to riches. He had everything we would think one could want, yet he was kept from spreading his wings as far as they could go. Just think about what would have happened if the “Colonel” had let Elvis read for “The Rainmaker” or if the “Colonel” hadn’t kept Elvis from touring outside of the U.S.

HEARTBREAK HOTEL at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E. Chestnut).  Tickets range from $35-$75 with a select number of premium seats. Tickets are available now for groups of 10 or more by calling Broadway In Chicago Group Sales at (312) 977-1710 or emailing GroupSales@BroadwayInChicago.com. For more information, visit BroadwayInChicago.com.