Stories & Cast Interviews

Friday, July 29, 2016

Meet John Michael Presney As Carl Perkins!

Posted by: Pia Haas on Friday, July 29, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

I grew up in a little town called Rochester, IL - right outside of the capitol, Springfield. Lots of corn. 1 stoplight.

My family were all involved in local theatre so I was always around it and participating in it. And I loved it. A lot of the people I looked up to the most came from that community, but all I really wanted to do was play my guitar in a rock and roll band. I had planned on going to school for music production and engineering, but when I sat down with admissions for that department, I was really disheartened. Instead of talking about the future of the business or where it could go, they only talked about how dead it was. I know (now firsthand) that it was, and still is, a scary time for musicians and producers, but I didn’t want to be part of a department that seemed to be talking about what WAS as opposed to what could be. So, I asked the guy on the spot if I could go talk to the theatre department an that was that! I had a really good two years at that school but then transferred to a conservatory in Chicago - Chicago College of Performing Arts at Roosevelt University. I wanted to be in an important arts city. It’s funny though - because now, a lot of the theatre jobs I do are because I play a bunch of instruments. I guess it all comes full circle.

I was going to school in Chicago when the show premiered there. Truth is, I never saw it. I heard great things obviously, but always worried that it might not be, you know…“authentic.” I love this music and wasn’t sure I wanted to see it turned into a broadway-style show. But right after I graduated, I got a call from my agent asking if I wanted to audition for the upcoming national tour. I went and saw the show that night and was just blown away. It was everything I had hoped it would be but thought it wouldn’t. It was gritty and full of love for these figures and songs. And the playing was great. Nobody was faking it with their instruments. I left the theatre knowing I HAD to be a part of the show.

At that time, they they had cast almost the entire tour and rehearsals started in less than a month - but they were still looking for the covers for Carl and Jerry Lee. I went in for Carl and got it! I toured with the show for nearly two years covering the role of Carl Perkins and also functioning as an assistant stage manager and instrument manager. This show changed my life!

As a lover of Americana and roots music, it’s just incredible. Look, this music - in part because its so iconic - sometimes gets remembered a certain way. I think people forget or don’t even realize that at the time, this stuff was greasy, vibrant, dangerous and revolutionary. Rock and roll was brand new. You know, if you listen to the original recordings, they still sound edgy and full of life all these years later. Try saying that about most records made even 10 years ago. It’s hard! These songs are still totally relevant and It’s an amazing privilege to honor these guys and the music they made by showing that every night. By bringing a context and history to these songs that sometimes gets forgotten about. Especially playing Carl, who is a massive luminary to guitar players, but too often gets left out of the conversation outside of, say, roots and rockabilly circles.

Here’s something cool. When we were touring through Memphis, his son Stan (who’s also a noted rockabilly musician), came out and played an encore with the show. A few of us were talking to him after soundcheck and he was saying how happy it made him to see his Dad represented on stage. And while I certainly don't want to speak for him, he seemed really happy to see his Dad get some recognition in that regard and with the way that he was presented. To me, that’s what this whole show is about: shining a light on these guys. Maybe showing folks a little more about who they really were beyond the songs and the images and how they really made this music. The absolute best is when young people see the show and then realize that, you know, maybe Elvis is pretty cool. Maybe he’s not just the image they have in their head. Same with any of the guys. And then they hopefully go home and dive into the music and see that without it, none of the rock and roll we hear today would have happened… or at least happened the same way. They see the rock and roll connection with Carl and The Beatles or they listen to the words Johnny wrote and see how he fits in right alongside people like Dylan. Man, there’s just so much there. I could go on all day.

I try to pour myself into whatever I’m doing at the time. I just always hope to get the opportunity to do something new and authentic and that speaks to an issue - and in this case, the preservation of our musical history is an issue! Music and theatre and film or wherever you want to look at - it’s all story telling. That’s what’s important to me. And if it’s a musical - well, it’s got to have great music obviously!

When I’m not on stage as an actor, I’m probably on stage playing my own music! I write and record my own songs and am currently working on a new album. You can find more about my music at www.johnmichaelpresney.com !

Besides that? I also love to travel. My girlfriend and I actually recently returned from Argentina where we went down to Patagonia and hiked on a glacier! It was incredible! I honestly think that if more people could experience nature like that; that pure and free from pollution - there wouldn’t even be a debate about trying to save the planet. We’d just do it!

What's on my Ipod ... Right now? Here’s a few! Freddy & Francine, Ryan Adams, The Replacements, Big Star, The Band, Etta James, Bruce Springsteen.

     

                                                                                   At SUN Studios for a recording session

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Sky Seals "Walks the Line" as Johnny Cash

Posted by: Pia Haas on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (2)

We caught up with Sky Seals after the triumphant opening of Million Dollar Quartet on Friday Night.... Read on...

I'm a proud Colorado native! But I've also lived in New Mexico, California, Rhode Island, Minnesota, and SOUTH DAKOTA (yep, I'm one of the few). My parents were theater artists, my father a successful writer ("The Powwow Highway", which was turned into a major film in 1987, which I was in!). I lived in SD from 4th grade through high school, and that's where I discovered music and theater. 

I started playing piano in 3rd grade, and guitar in college, thanks to the support of both of my parents. But my genesis as a performer comes down to one moment.

One day, I decided to sing a song in class, and I started to get nervous. Andy Bradley started singing along with me, and helped me finish the song ("It's Log, it's Log, it's big, it's heavy, it's wood!") with gusto! We became best friends, and he helped me discover my voice, and my confidence to let it out. We took over the choir and theater departments of our middle school, and then our high school, and eventually were school-famous on TV every day doing our hilarious take on the morning announcements. Andy is, sadly, no longer with us, but I owe my career and passion to his friendship and inspiration.

I'm the Freshman of the show! I had heard of the show on Broadway, but couldn't afford to see it. I'd auditioned a handful (and a half) of times before getting the chance to join this cast. 

I was intimidated, not only to join an incredible cast who had the benefit of doing the show together before, but also to carry the mantle of the man, Johnny Cash. He's such an icon and is rightfully beloved by so many, so I knew I had to work extra hard to get it right. My voice is, typically, in the tenor range, but I was excited to explore my lower range more fully, for the first time since studying as an operatic baritone in college. 

When studying Johnny Cash, the first thing you notice is how calm, smooth, in-control he always is, whether at the mic or speaking candidly. His straight-forward, yet mythical and timeless lyrics come through him very plainly, so you focus on them, rather than the man. He as a deeply religious man, but he knew the temptations of the world quite well, so there's an inner tension within him that keeps him constantly Walking the Line. 

I'm obsessed with Hamilton, of course, and I'd love to play many of those roles, but I think that now is the time when the diversity of the cast is more important than another white guy getting another great role. So, I continue to pursue Sweeney Todd, Javert, Che Guevara, Judas, and Hamlet. 

When I'm not on stage I'm either studying art, history, science or politics or playing music! I write plays, kids musicals and silly songs when I can. I also try to find ways to be healthier and happier by surrounding myself with friends, family, and nature. 

My iPod is constantly shuffling between Hamilton, Kendrick Lamar, Jason Isbell, Phish, Bob Dylan, Run the Jewels, Prince, Michael Jackson, Mozart, Radiohead, and Louis C.K.  To name a small sampling. I listen to everything.

 

 

Meet Ari Mckay Wilford as The King!

Posted by: Pia Haas on Tuesday, July 26, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

Ari McKay Wilford  as Elvis Presley ... He becomes a legend well!

I'm from a small town in Maine near the coast. Spent a lot of time at the beach as a kid.

It was something I fell into. I started playing the violin around 4 years old and continued playing for quite a few years until I (at around 11) didn't think it was cool anymore. I switched to drums and played those for a while. My father was in a band when I was growing up and is in another band now so I've always been around music. My parents own a dance studio as well and I believe my first foray into acting was a production of Peter Pan one of my Mom's students was involved with. But clearly growing up with a musician and a dance teacher influenced me towards performing.

I was actually working for a producer selling tickets to show's at new world stages back in 2010/11 and Million Dollar Quartet was one of those shows. I never saw it but I remember thinking "what a great idea for a musical". I just recently did the show at gateway playhouse; it was a blast and I'm excited to be doing it again.

It's something I honestly never saw myself doing. I mean I grew up with this music. There is an intimate familiarity with me, but to be portraying one of them, and for it to be Elvis no less was not something I imagined. My approach is not and never was to do an imitation or impersonation which would be an easy trap to fall into. I watched a lot of early Elvis videos and his early movies. I worked on his voice and his movement. I watched for little ticks and idiosyncrasies and I took note of all of it and then I threw it away. All of those things stay with me and things I'm consistently aware of and they make their way into my performance, but they come out without me having to think about them. My base is more imagining, "ok, if I was 21 and turning into the biggest celebrity the world had ever seen, how would I act" knowing the things I do about Elvis, his insecurities, anxieties, relationship with his mother, with the colonel. I take all of that into account in an effort to try and do a legend justice.

I grew up with shows like Rent and Spring Awakening. I'm a big fan of Next To Normal. I gravitate towards shows I could do. Once is one of my favorite shows and I had dream roles in that and then I got to play them all on Broadway :)

I'm an avid traveler, I take a few trips to other countries a year. I traveled all over Asia most recently. I use credit cards points in a very specific way to travel a lot for free or very cheap and follow a lot of travel blogs to help me do so.

I have an eclectic mix of music, but currently, Glen Hansard, Gabe Dixon, Nickel Creek, Dave Matthews, Ed Sheeran, Sara Bareilles, Kansas, I go on binges with certain artists depending on my mood.

ari

Monday, July 25, 2016

Meet Jason Loughlin as Sam Phillips

Posted by: Pia Haas on Monday, July 25, 2016 at 12:00:00 am Comments (0)

I'm from Charlotte, North Carolina, a place I have been very proud of until recently. With the passing of HB-2, our state has turned into a place of fear and divisiveness, something that I hold to be atrocious for any age, but certainly in our present time. There are still good people there, arguably most, but the legislature and executive branch have been infested with bigots and fear-mongers, so, it's time for a change.

 Aside from that, I spent summers playing sports and swimming, hanging with friends and general buffoonery as a kid. I have family still in Charlotte and I go back to visit often. 
 I grew up with it. My dad is an actor and director, so, I have memories of being a 5-yr old watching rehearsals in our basement. I first performed professionally when I was 9 in A Christmas Carol, and I sort of never let that love leave my conscience.

I first got involved with MDQ last year, with Hunter Foster also at the helm. I don't normally do musicals (good thing I have the one part in the show that doesn't sing) but the role sounded fun, so I jumped on board. Hunter is such an insightful director, who guides us well and also allows us to explore and build the intricate relationships you see on stage. It's been a blast!

Portraying these character, or at least Sam Phillips, for me, is enlightening on so many levels. I had never heard of him, so, as I was digging into his life I was fascinated by his choices and achievements, as well as his mistakes. No one is perfect and finding those subtleties in characters, for me, is one of the most intriguing things about this art form.

What are my favorite show/dream roles? Well, there are a lot of roles I haven't done, so, I dream to do most of them. I have had much fun doing Shakespeare, two high spots being Malcolm in Macbeth Mand Berowne in Love's Labours Lost. Sam Phillips is definitely one of my favorite to date.

When I am not onstage I am playing some sort of sport, be it tennis, football, basketball, baseball, you name it. I also enjoy building things, being a carpenter. 

What's on my Ipod? Lots. current things I listen to are Nathaniel Raiteliffe and The Nightsweats, The Lone Bellow, The Monophonics, Gary Clark, Jr., Sam Cooke, and Hamilton.

 
Jason (front Left) with The cast of Million Dollar Quartet