Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Reel Thoughts Interview: Million Dollar Beauty

The Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet tells the story of one fateful day, December 4, 1956, when four giants of the music industry came together at the famed Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, and proceeded to record together for the first and last time. Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash were joined by a youthful Elvis Presley, along with a girlfriend named Dyanne, and although the real event comprised mostly gospel songs, the Broadway show imagines the event as an all-star concert of the stars’ biggest hits.

San Diego-born actress Alyssa Marie is excited to be on tour with the show understudying the role of Dyanne, even if she is the only gay member of the cast. The beautiful blonde has formed a bond with Kelly Lamont, who she understudies in the role, although Marie considers all of the talented men in the cast to be family.

The show has a light plot about recording pioneer Sam Phillips struggling to keep his independent label open, along with subplots about the musicians and their struggles, but the real reason for the show is all of the good time music you get to hear, performed by a hot young cast (including Grease: You're the One That I Want  hunk Derek Keeling as Cash) who really embody the icons they play. If you are lucky enough to see Marie perform, she counts the song “I Hear You Knocking” as her favorite part of the show, although audiences will enjoy seeing her rendition of Peggy Lee’s “Fever” as well.

“I’ve always been a big fan of Elvis and Johnny Cash and I’ve gotten to learn a lot more about Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins doing this. It’s just such great music. It’s hard to get sick of it. We all like the music so much, we keep it fresh and have fun with it every night. It’s just a fun show. You leave feeling upbeat and you feel like you learned a little bit about that history and that moment in time.”

Marie has enjoyed performing in the world premieres of two musicals at the La Jolla Playhouse, Limelight, a Broadway-bound show about Charlie Chaplin, and Little Miss Sunshine, based on the 2006 hit film. Her most challenging role was as the female lead in All Shook Up, the Elvis-infused musical where she had to play a tomboy who is mistaken for a real boy by the sexy male lead, and who spends the show trying to figure out how to “come out” as a girl.

I spoke with the talented actress while she enjoyed a day in San Francisco, a benefit of playing in nearby San Jose. President Obama’s support of gay marriage had just been announced, so I asked Marie how she felt. “I think we all rejoiced. I’m actually engaged right now and it’s one of those things... we’re planning this wedding and this ceremony and there’s a part of me that’s worried that when we have this wedding, will it all just be for show and not have the legal ramifications that we deserve. (President Obama’s statement) gave me and my fiancĂ©e hope and made us very happy for the day. Actions speak louder than words, so hopefully, he keeps representing us all in a positive way and fighting for our rights.”

Before California’s Prop. 8 outlawed same-sex marriage, Marie was happy for the couples who got married when they could, and she said that if the court rulings make gay marriage legal in California again, she would definitely get a quickie marriage and then plan the grandiose ceremony of their dreams later. “Crystal and I are going to move to New York once the tour is over, but we want to be legally married in California where we both grew up. It’s our home, so we’re keeping our fingers crossed.”

“It’s been interesting being on this tour and being exposed to different areas’ views on it. I don’t look like the quote-unquote stereotypical lesbian, so no one ever assumes I’m gay, which was so hard when I was trying to date,” she said laughing. “But because of that, whenever Crystal has been able to visit on tour, it’s been a lot of mixed responses from people to us just holding hands. It’s opened my eyes to how liberal and wonderful California is. In Los Angeles, we can walk around everywhere holding hands and we rarely get a dirty look, whereas in some of these cities, like when Crystal visited me in Charlotte, North Carolina, people looked at us like we were the scum of the earth for just holding hands. It’s been an eye-opening experience of how far we still need to go, that I wasn’t even really aware of, coming from San Diego.”

Overall, she has enjoyed seeing the country, especially Memphis and Dallas, and the audiences have taken to the show everywhere they’ve played. If you like songs like “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Who Do You Love?”, “Hound Dog” and “Great Balls of Fire”, you won’t mind paying a few bucks to see this Million Dollar Quartet... plus one.

Interview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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