Head to Downstairs Cabaret for classic hits

05:00 AM, Nov 17, 2013

Eddie Clendening, center, stars in Downstairs Cabaret's Good Rockin' Live, which also includes Connor Moore on piano, Paul Chappell on drums and Ron Hart on bass. The music revue features such classics as 'Blue Suede Shoes' and 'Great Balls of Fire. ' (Provided by DCT)/


Written By Sandra Parker

If you go

Good Rockin’ Live plays through Feb. 2 at Downstairs Cabaret at Winton Place, 3450 Winton Place, Brighton. Star Eddie Clendening also is playing at other places during his stay in Rochester, including at Abilene on Thursday and Marge’s Lakeside Inn on Nov. 27.
Take Me Home is at the 20 Windsor St. theater downtown through Dec. 1.
Ticket prices for both shows are $23 to $33. Call (585) 325-4370 or go to DownstairsCabaret.org.

Eddie Clendening played Elvis Presley in Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet. Nicolette Hart played his fictitious girlfriend, Dyanne.

Now both of them are in Downstairs Cabaret Theatre shows.

Hart, along with fellow Broadway colleague Tom Deckman (who, with Hart, was in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying Broadway), stars in Downstairs Cabaret’s Take Me Home.

Clendening, meanwhile, stars in Good Rockin’ Live. More like a concert than a show, it features a band playing songs based on the famed 1956 jam session involving Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash at Sun Record Company in Memphis. Clendening played Presley for five years in Million Dollar Quartet, which is the story of that jam session. In Good Rockin’ Live, Clendening plays himself rather than Presley as he leads the band through tunes like “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Great Balls of Fire.” He says he enjoys the freedom the show gives him to play songs and tell stories after years of scripted Broadway productions.

I’ve enjoyed my time on Broadway, but I’m a little more comfortable in this setting because I’m used to playing in bars and honky-tonks,” he says.

Clendening’s speaking voice sounds like it belongs to a guy who carries a black comb in his back pocket to touch up his pompadour. In fact, he has sported the hairstyle since he was a kid growing up in Denver, Colo.

I got into slicking my hair up because of my grandfather and all the old Italian guys who were around,” says Clendening. “I wanted cool hair like that.”

He began singing and playing guitar with other musicians in his teens and eventually toured the world with his rockabilly band, The Blue Ribbon Boys. The tunes in Good Rockin’ Live, at Downstairs Cabaret’s Winton Place theater, appeal to him because “it’s more feeling and emotion than technique, like blues. … It doesn’t take itself too seriously.”

Clendening, 30, says he doesn’t identify with his own generation. “I don’t know what’s going on with those people,” he says.

As for the show, “some husbands might be afraid when they hear ‘theater show,’ but it’s more like just going to hear good music,” Clendening says. “You can laugh and dance and cut up and do what you want — nobody’s going to stop you.”

Also in a quasi-concert format, Take Me Home, at Downstairs Cabaret’s downtown theater, traces the ’70s and ’80s sound of groups like Fleetwood Mac and Journey and stars area natives Hart and Deckman.

They both say that they too feel a connection with the music in their show.

You hear the song and remember exactly where you were,” Hart says. A lot of times, for her it’s the mirrored basement of her childhood home in Penfield where Hart (then known as Michelle Lipman) put on shows for her parents and neighbors.

One of her favorite songs from those days is “Video Killed the Radio Star,” the 1979 New Wave hit by the British group The Buggles.

I remember being very affected by that record,” says Hart, who has moved back to Penfield.

Deckman, who grew up in Rochester, still lives in New York City but is here temporarily to do the show and visit with family. “I’m a child of the ’80s; it’s such a walk down memory lane,” he says. One of his favorites is the Peter Gabriel tune “Sledgehammer.”

It was important that we sang songs we connected with,” Deckman says, noting that the show “isn’t karaoke — we give more than that. We do great twists on classic ’80s songs.”

Hart and Deckman say they hope the show will revive what they see as the area’s declining passion for live productions. “I’d love to open Rochester’s eyes in general as to what great theater they can see in a tiny space,” Deckman says.