Dayton native Travis Williams is having a blast portraying the Man in Black.
Williams takes the stage at certain performances of the Chicago production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” the hit musical based on the true story of Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis’ 1956 jam session at Sun Records in Memphis.
Cast last summer as the understudy for the iconic Cash as well as Sun impresario Sam Phillips, Williams relishes the chance to sing some of the finest numbers in the rock and roll canon, particularly “Sixteen Tons,” “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues.”
The 2005 Bellbrook High School grad whose memorable credits include the Dayton Theatre Guild productions of “Sordid Lives” and “The Diviners” and Sinclair Community College’s productions of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum” and “The Cripple of Inishmaan” has always admired Cash. As a singer/guitarist, he considers “Folsom Prison Blues,” “25 Minutes to Go” and “Cocaine Blues” among his favorite Cash tunes. He welcomed the challenge to believably exude his essence.
“Playing Cash’s music and getting used to the songs was perhaps the toughest, most difficult element,” said Williams, 28. “I also watched a lot of videos and read many interviews. It was easy getting to know who Cash was as a fascinating American legend. The research wasn’t difficult or painstaking. When I stepped onstage for the first time as Cash, I felt I had arrived. And the understudies go on quite often, which is great and pretty amazing.”
Presently, “Million Dollar Quartet” (which will have its local premiere next season courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association) is in its fifth year. The cast also regularly performs at various promotional events including the Chicago Auto Show.
“It’s been a crazy ride,” said Williams, a member of Theatre Seven of Chicago. “I’m just thankful it has happened. I’m trying to take it day by day. We’re basically selling tickets through September. This show is one of those theater machines that will probably keep going and going.”
Williams’ Chicago credits include “The History Boys,” “The Water Engine” and the world premiere of “The Quiet Man Tales.” Pounding the pavement in the Windy City over the past six years has taught him so much about the power of persistence.
“Acting is a strange profession because you never really know where it’s going to take you,” he said. “Your road is not laid out for you. You have to be kind of crazy to be an actor. You have to continue to pat yourself on the back when you’re in between shows, reassuring yourself everything is going to be okay. But for me, acting is all about storytelling. And the fact that ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is based on a true story fascinates me. It’s a win-win scenario for an actor.”
Williams, who also spent two seasons as a co-host within the Dayton Dragons Green Team, isn’t sure how long he and his wife Elizabeth will call Chicago home, but remains thankful for the encouragement and support he received while molding his skills among our local theater scene.
“Most of my heroes, the people that pushed me to do theater in the first place, who believed in me to become an actor, came from Dayton,” he said. “I wouldn’t even be in Chicago if I didn’t have the support of people behind me saying I could do this. Every relationship I had with acting particularly at the Dayton Theatre Guild and Sinclair has totally shaped who I am today.”
Playing in Chicago: “Million Dollar Quartet” is at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave., Chicago. For tickets or more information, call the Apollo Theater Chicago box office at (773) 935-6100 or call Ticketmaster at (800) 982-2787 or go online to www.milliondollarquartetlive.com/chicago-tickets.
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Rooted in Ohio profiles interesting people who have grown up in or lived in Ohio and have gone to make a name for themselves around the country or the globe. If you know of someone worthy of being highlighted, then send an email to Life@coxinc.com and include “Rooted in Ohio idea” in the message subject line.