Lo­cal ac­tor rel­ishes Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet role

The Prince George Citizen - - Local - Frank PEEBLES Cit­i­zen staff fpee­[email protected]­i­t­i­zen.ca

Cur­tis Abriel is rolling through the golden years of rock ‘n’ roll, and it feels like es­pe­cially fa­mil­iar ter­ri­tory.

The sem­i­nal Prince Ge­orge multi-in­stru­men­tal­ist, ubiq­ui­tous in the lo­cal live mu­sic scene, is one of the lo­cal cast mem­bers in the Theatre North­west (TNW) pro­duc­tion of Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet, set to open on Nov. 22 (it runs to Dec. 12). Abriel is the one slap­pin’ da bass as Brother Jay who, in real life, was Carl Perkins’ brother and a fix­ture in the 1950s stu­dio ses­sions and ra­dio broad­casts around the Jack­sonMem­phis scene.

It is a po­si­tion not alien to Abriel, who was also on stage por­tray­ing a mem­ber of The Crick­ets, the real-life band of that same rock­a­billy era, in the TNW pro­duc­tion of The Buddy Holly Story. That show was the toast of 2013 and broke all box of­fice records for TNW.

Now, as Jay Perkins, Abriel gets to travel back through that same golden win­dow to the time when rock ‘n’ roll was be­ing born.

“I feel I might be play­ing the ex­act same bass from Long & McQuade,” said Abriel, “and this time I’m sens­ing the au­di­ence is go­ing to ex­ceed those num­bers we achieved with Buddy Holly. There’s some­thing about this mu­sic, and these peo­ple we get to por­tray. They are fas­ci­nat­ing, and I’m speak­ing as a mu­si­cian, but I know they have a very spe­cial place in cul­ture even if you don’t sing or play an in­stru­ment.”

Fer­ris Vasko had some catch­ing up to do. The as­pir­ing Prince Ge­orge ac­tor has been study­ing the 1950s mu­sic age through books, record­ings and video as she pre­pares for the part of Dyanne, a fic­ti­tious backup singer mod­elled on ac­tual dancer/vo­cal­ist Mar­i­lyn Evans who was the girl­friend of Elvis Pres­ley at that point.

In the fa­mous photo of Pres­ley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash that sparked the writ­ing of the play The Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet, the pic­ture also in­cludes Evans. She was usu­ally cropped out by the pub­lish­ers of his­tory, but she and an­other fe­male voice are cap­tured in the back­ground of the ac­tual tapes from that fate­ful night’s record­ings. Dyanne rep­re­sents them both, in the “what if” of this play’s script.

“I’ve been getting a playlist to­gether of mu­sic from that era, es­pe­cially fe­male singers. Fifties jazz is re­ally cool,” said Vasko who is mak­ing her TNW de­but. Sort of.

“This is my fourth year with TNW,” she said, but none of it was on stage. “Tech­ni­cally I was called the front-of-house as­sis­tant but, yes, I was an usher. I’ve done props a cou­ple of times, I’m the box of­fice man­ager, and now I’m ac­tu­ally in the show which is su­per ex­cit­ing.”

She has done other stage work in the past, es­pe­cially for the UNBC Mu­si­cal Pro­duc­tions club. She is run­ning lights for their up­com­ing pro­duc­tion of Dirty Rot­ten Scoundrels, while main­tain­ing a full-time course load study­ing English and An­thro­pol­ogy.

Abriel is the mu­sic di­rec­tor for Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet, as well as play­ing bass, and that busy work­load is typ­i­cal of his sched­ule. He was sim­i­larly cast in Judy Rus­sell’s re­cent pro­duc­tion of Cabaret, he was also with her for Legally Blonde, and he plays at Win­ston’s Resto-Bar each Fri­day in ad­di­tion to the other bands and events that call on his tal­ents. He has even been the mu­sic di­rec­tor for the Prince Ge­orge Cougars, in the past.

Hold­ing down the rhythm in the Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet band is an­other lo­cal ta­lent who seems to be ev­ery­where on lo­cal stages. Danny Bell, is the drum­mer named Fluke, based on ac­tual rock­a­billy drum­mer W.S. Fluke Hol­land, who rat­tled the skins for a who’s who of early stars of rock ‘n’ roll.

“It’s fun mu­sic to play, a hard shuf­fle,” said Bell who is well known for his band work and con­cert pro­mo­tion around the city. He re­cently re­leased an al­bum un­der the moniker Danny Bell & His Dis­ap­point­ments. He said his work­load pre­vented him from tak­ing part in the Legally Blonde or­ches­tra this sum­mer, so this show comes as a wel­come devel­op­ment.

“I did some of this work in high school, and I’ve been want­ing to get back into pit bands and live theatre stuff,” he said.

“I just love the set­ting, the at­mos­phere, the con­nec­tion with the ac­tors and the au­di­ence. This show was a lot more chal­leng­ing than I first ex­pected, so that’s a real treat. And just work­ing with Cu­rits is ex­cit­ing. He’s so se­ri­ous about the craft and so tal­ented, so it’s an hon­our to be in a band with him.”

Round­ing out the en­sem­ble is Frankie Cot­trell as Pres­ley, Mont­gomery Bjorn­son as Lewis, Ken­ton Klassen as Cash, Ed­ward Mur­phy as Perkins and David Sk­lar as Sam Phillips, the record ex­ec­u­tive who owned Sun Records and wisely pushed the Record but­ton when they all gath­ered on Dec. 5, 1956 for this one night of rock ‘n’ roll his­tory.


David Sk­lar, Mont­gomery Bjorn­son, Ed­ward Mur­phy, Frankie Cot­trell, Ken­ton Klassen, bassist and lo­cal ac­tor Cur­tis Abriel and drum­mer Daniel Bell re­hearse a scene from Theatre North­west’s pro­duc­tion of Mil­lion Dol­lar Quar­tet.

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