There is a definite chill in the air as summer winds to a close, but the temperature in Ogunquit is rising higher, higher. The seaside town sizzled with a fever as the Ogunquit Playhouse shook, rattled and rolled to the world premiere of “Heartbreak Hotel.”

The rousing biographical musical is written and directed by Floyd Mutrux, the award-winning genius behind “Million Dollar Quartet.” A prequel, “Heartbreak Hotel” follows Elvis Presley’s early career from truck driver to burgeoning rock ‘n’ roll superstar. Like “Million Dollar Quartet,” the production is told through music, with live performances by the cast’s talented musicians.

Eddie Clendening stars as the iconic “King of Rock and Roll.” He’s not a dead ringer looks-wise, but once he opens his mouth, all differences melt away. Clendening channels Elvis’s unforgettable vocals with an uncanniness that brings thrilling goose bumps as he performs well-known hits such as “All Shook Up,” “Don’t Be Cruel” and “Blue Suede Shoes.”

He’s also mastered many of Elvis’s mannerisms, from the curled lip to his “indecent” hip-shaking. Clendening originated the role of Elvis in “Million Dollar Quartet” on Broadway and has more than 2,000 performances under his belt. As he delivered song after song in the grand finale Friday – dressed in a white suit with blue rhinestones by Dustin Cross – there was a discernible glint in his eye and an unmistakable Elvis smile on his lips. “The King” was definitely in the building.

Projection designer Brad Peterson aids in the transformation, seamlessly blending projected archived footage with recreated images. Rather than highlighting the differences, the combination cleverly tricks the mind into believing that Clendening and cast are the real deal.

“Heartbreak Hotel” is expected to undergo a lot of changes over its run in Ogunquit. The brand new production isn’t currently as polished and cohesive as the Tony Award-winning “Million Dollar Quartet,” but it is an exhilarating musical journey nonetheless. Mutrux has woven a story that not only offers a personalized look at Elvis’s life and what he sacrificed for fame, but also incorporates a colorful array of performers and people from the time.


Los Angeles music scene veteran Geno Henderson is positively electrifying in a variety of roles that include the legendary B.B. King, Nat King Cole and Chuck Berry. The guitarist, vocalist and songwriter was a triple-threat Friday, belting out bluesy numbers, rocking on guitar and strutting around the stage, all the while serving as the production’s music director.

Berlando Drake and Terita Redd brought down the house as Ruth Brown and Rosetta Tharpe, as well as various ensemble characters. Roof-raising soul shook the playhouse with astounding power as the pair recalled the R&B music that influenced Elvis’ celebrated sound.

The 14 cast members successfully bring to life an impressive number of characters that include Elvis’s longtime manager, “Colonel” Tom Parker, played with carnie flair by Jerry Kernion; legendary Sun Records producer Sam Phillips, played by Matt McKenzie; pioneering disc jockey Dewey Phillips, played by Christopher Sutton; and the beautifully voiced Erin Burniston as Elvis’s high school sweetheart, Dixie Locke.

Matt Codina, Nathan Yates Douglass and Jamie Pittle lend their musical talents on guitar, upright bass and drums as Elvis’ Blue Moon Boys, with Brenna Bloom, Fallon Goodson and Kara Mikula rounding out the accomplished cast in various roles.

“Heartbreak Hotel” offers an entertaining look at Elvis’s early years and the influences that shaped him. It’s filled with vibrant characters and energizing musical performances that transport the audience back to the dramatic birth of rock ‘n’ roll.

April Boyle is a freelance writer from Casco. Contact her at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @ahboyle

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