Heartbreak Hotel offers a look at early Elvis

By Jesse Wright, Staff Writer

Published August 30, 2018

As the name might imply, the musical Heartbreak Hotel, isn’t always happy.

Yes, a young man realizes his ambitions. Yes, he gets a Cadillac. And yes, Elvis Aaron Presley, a truck driver from Mississippi, becomes ELVIS.

But he loses his girl.

He loses his mentor.

He loses his band.

He loses his friend.

In exchange, he gains a manipulative weasel, Colonel Tom Parker who makes the man a god.

The musical is not a sob story. Presley was the first pop star, after all and Heartbreak Hotel never lets its audiences forget it: This is the story of ELVIS. And it’s a fun story.

Edding Clendening as Elvis in the musical Heartbreak Hotel. Photo courtesy Broadway in Chicago.

The star of the show is Eddie Clendening, a musician who first took up the role of Presley in the hit Broadway musical The Million Dollar Quartet. That musical tells the story of one December day in 1956 when Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Presley got together for a jam session at Sun Records. By then, Presley had signed to RCA for a year and he was already ELVIS.

Heartbreak Hotel is a prequel, and it tells the story of Presley’s early days.

Clendening said the run so far has been great, and he’s had a good time with the character over the course of two musicals.

“I grew up loving music from the ‘40s and ‘50s and ‘60s,” he said. “Elvis is always what I loved.”

Besides the music, Clendening said it’s no surprise the story still resonates.

“His is the quintessential rags-to-riches a self made man American tale,” Clendening said.

Clendening added that the celebrity cult that developed around the marketing of ELVIS is still relevant. He was the first rock star, and that’s still interesting to audiences.

“That’s the fun thing about Elvis, at least, what I like, is that he’s still a human being and he’s turned into this character,” Clendening said. “But at the time there was no sort of road map on how to navigate that sort of stuff. He wasn’t the first person to be treated like a product. The Hollywood studio system had been doing that for a while; but he was the first one to get to that level … The climate was totally new and these record labels were trying to squeeze every penny out of every product.”

The musical will continue through Sept. 9

Individual tickets for Heartbreak Hotel at the Broadway Playhouse at Water Tower Place (175 E. Chestnut) are on-sale now. 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 www.BroadwayInChicago.com.


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