Two local Elvis enthusiasts are working on an off-Broadway musical highlighting the life and times of “The King of Rock and Roll!”
When the U.S. declared its independence in 1776, it did away with the British monarchy. But nearly two centuries later, it declared its own king– one that famously donned white studded jumpsuits, sunglasses and sideburns– Elvis Presley. Dubbed “The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” or simply, “The King,” Presley’s impact on pop culture was so potent and seductive that following his death in 1977, thousands of people worldwide continue to reanimate his essence as career impersonators (in Las Vegas, Elvis lives forever), making him one of the most recognizable figures in American history.
However, today, although most may recognize him, very few actually know his story, which is what led Emmy award-winning TV producer and playwright and Bed-Stuy resident Mark Macias to write an Off-Broadway musical based on Presley’s life: The King, The Final Hours, is directed by another Bed-Stuy resident, Scotty Watson. The play covers the last few hours of Presley’s life, as well as the events that led to his death.
“This play has never been done before,” said Macias. “It’s a chance for people to hear the story of Elvis and be a fly on the wall in history.”
Macias first approached Watson with his idea for the musical, claiming it was a story no one had yet told. Two readings of the script later and Watson was on board as director.
The play doesn’t shy away from the truth about Elvis: “The King” was in love with two women at the same time, one of whom was only 14 when they first met. The small cast of characters include Elvis Presley, played by Brett Michael Bullard, a Memphis native, actor and playwright; Elvis’s former lover Ann-Margaret Olsson, played by actress Colleen Wright; Elvis’ manager Colonel Tom Parker, played by Isaac Rodriguez, a real-life business manager and magician; and, of course, Priscilla Beaulieu Presley, played by Samantha Haviland.
“Elvis is still huge in Memphis,” said Bullard, a native of Memphis.
“I grew up idolizing him; my grandma used to tell me I had Elvis hips when I danced,” said Bullard, laughing and with a slight Southern drawl. Bullard also plays the guitar and will be performing Presley’s songs himself, accompanied by Macias on the piano. Wright also plays the piano and guitar and will contribute to the play’s live music.
The play will crackle during scenes between Elvis and Priscilla: “Priscilla had this grand idea of Elvis and when she first met him; that’s who she fell in love with,” said actress Haviland. “As she got to know him, she began to fall in love with the man. She’s a romantic at heart but that is also her downfall.”
The self-concerned Ann-Margaret, controlling Priscilla and manipulative Colonel are enough to drive Presley over the edge, giving the audience a real glimpse into what life was really like for the King, who seemed to have it all.
Watson allows the actors to play with the script and interpret it in their own way while making sure it remains true to the story and Macias’s main goal: to allow people to see the real Elvis Presley in an honest light.
“I’m less concerned about the acting and more about the reacting they do to one another,” said Watson. “The writer tells the story and the actors interpret it – I’m just here to facilitate their art.”
“I think it’s okay that Elvis had personal qualms we don’t know about, and we recognize that,” said Macias. “We want to see him as a legend, but he had a lot of flaws and that’s what made him human.”