Hunter Foster
(© Tristan Fuge)
Hunter Foster
(© Tristan Fuge)
Hunter Foster has spent over a decade headlining such Broadway hits as The Producers, Urinetown, and Little Shop of Horrors. Now, the former Tony Award and Drama Desk Award nominee is doing it again in Million Dollar Quartet at Broadway's Nederlander Theatre, where he plays Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, who discovered Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley. Foster recently took time to chat with TheaterMania about being a part of this crowd-pleasing show.

THEATERMANIA: How have you found the experience of playing a real person different from the experience of playing a fictional character?
HUNTER FOSTER: It kind of goes both ways. When you're playing a fictional character you can create your own back story within the context of the script, but when you're portraying a real person you can do research and find out a lot about someone. On the other hand, you're kind of locked into keeping it within the parameters of who the real person was. I found it interesting to do research on Sam Phillips and talk to people that knew him, but you never want to copy someone. I feel like you should find the essence of who that person was and put your own spin on it.

TM: How did you research Phillips' personality and mannerisms, and what did you find out about him in the process
HF: The majority of the stuff that was on Sam Phillips was later on in his life, when he was a little bit off his rocker. There were a couple of videos that were not helpful at all because he was a little crazy. But I went down to Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee and talked to a lot of people. We watched some interviews with him, and an interesting thing was that he was from Alabama and he had a real slow speech pattern. He talked very slow, and very deliberate, and I was like, "Oh my god, I can't copy that or the show will be three hours long!" For a theater piece, there's a pace to it, you can't just get caught into this speech pattern. So the first thing I did was abandon any hope of trying to emulate his actual speech pattern. Floyd Mutrux, one of our writers, was saying that Phillips was the kind of man that walked into a room and the molecules would change -- he was just kind of electric in personality. I've met people that just have this fire in them, and I think that's what Sam was.

Hunter Foster, Levi Kreis, Robert Britton Lyons, Eddie Clendening, and Lance Guest in Million Dollar Quartet
(© Joan Marcus)
Hunter Foster, Levi Kreis, Robert Britton Lyons,
Eddie Clendening, and Lance Guest in Million Dollar Quartet
(© Joan Marcus)
TM: In recent years there have been many projects on Broadway that have been based on the music of real recording artists, and some have been criticized for trying to profit off of a musician or band's success. Were you concerned that Million Dollar Quartet would be lumped into the latter category?
HF: When you're trying to do a jukebox musical, there's a stigma that somehow it's going to be bad, it's going to be embarrassing. I think our producers and our director, Eric Schaeffer, and all of us were on the same page. We could just throw out these songs and it could be a concert or whatever, and we could all make money and go home, but instead we want to make it a real story, and try to get to know these characters and these relationships. That's what hooked me into it. Any time you tell a good story, whether using old songs or new songs, I think it can work.

TM: Are you a big fan of the musicians who are portrayed in the show?
HF: I was always a huge Elvis fan. I did singing telegrams where I used to dress up like Elvis. I went as Elvis for Halloween once, and I had a lot of Elvis paraphernalia.

TM: What would we find you doing immediately before a performance?
HF: I get myself psyched up for the show sometimes by listening to Spanish music, flamenco guitar, it just kind of gets my fires going. Eric came into my room one time right before the show and was like, 'What the hell are you listening to?' I'm like, 'It's flamenco guitar, it's Spanish music, it's music of passion!' He just thought it was insane. But that music gets your juices going.

TM: If you could create your own Million Dollar Quartet, who would be in it?
HF: That's a tough question! Bruce Springsteen would be Johnny Cash, Elton John would be Jerry Lee Lewis, Paul McCartney would be Carl Perkins, and Bono would be Elvis Presley. That's a pretty good concert, and they all have different styles of music too!

TM: Which real-life recording artist can you imagine yourself playing?
HF: If they were doing the John Cougar Mellencamp musical, I think I could probably do him. People tell me I look like him.