The show is holding open calls in Los Angeles on June 24 and in Austin, Texas, on June 27, the show’s producers announced in late May. Casting is for all four principals, giving regionally based performers a crack at filling the show’s larger-than-life musical shoes.
Telsey + Company is the casting agency charged with the challenging task of finding musician-actors who can play the parts—both musically and otherwise.
“What we’re looking for is very specific,” said Bethany Knox, a casting director for the show. “We’re really looking for authentic musicians to portray these iconic figures. So we have done extensive casting in New York and in Chicago with actors, and the usual routes of, you know, putting out a breakdown and seeing people who come through agents. And now what we wanted to do was look a little bit outside of the box.”
She points to other searches Telsey + Company has undertaken, including casting for the upcoming revival of “Annie,” which took nearly a year of scouring the country. In addition to New York and Los Angeles, open calls were held in Chicago, Orlando, San Jose, Austin and Omaha, with more than 5,000 girls auditioning. Three orphans who’ll open on Broadway Nov. 8—Emily Rosenfeld, Taylor Richardson, and Junah Jang—were discovered through the auditions.
In the ’90s, after “Rent” became an overnight smash, “We hit most major cities in the United States to find that cast,” Knox said, adding that early company members, including Jill Scott, who came out of auditions in Atlanta, and Terita Redd, who tried out in Washington, D.C., got their start in the show from cities off most beaten casting paths.
The result is that performers based far from New York and L.A. have opportunities to take their careers in directions that might not have otherwise been possible. Knox’s advice to performers is to audition, even if you doubt you’re ready for the big leagues. Of the regional calls, she says, “I think sometimes we look more for potential. In New York we’re used to seeing a more polished, finished product... Here we look for people we feel can grow into what we need.”
Cody Slaughter, currently playing Elvis on the national tour, can attest to this. “I pretty much told them I wasn’t the best guitar player,” he says of arriving at auditions in Chicago as a nervous 20-year-old, after a nine-hour car trip from his home in Arkansas. “They made me a better actor, a better singer, a better guitar player…when you’re surrounded by people who have the same passion you do, you can’t help but learn.”
The auditions are also an invaluable chance to get feedback from a casting pro. “ ‘Where you’re at right now, we really like A, B, and C, but we need this and this to improve,’ ” is advice Knox said they typically give hopefuls. If someone has potential, she’ll often revisit them a year or more down the road. Several performers have been cast in “Million Dollar Quartet” after being left on the shelf to ripen, including Slaughter, whom the team first encountered at an Elvis festival in Memphis when he was still in his teens.
The exposure can open doors beyond “Million Dollar Quartet.” “There are a lot of opportunities and obviously, we’re also considering people for all the other projects that we see,” Knox said. “If they’re not 100 percent right for this, we put them in our files for whatever else we work on.”