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LI musician repeats Broadway role in Engeman's 'Million Dollar Quartet'

Corey Kaiser as Brother Jay Perkins works his

Corey Kaiser as Brother Jay Perkins works his bass in "Million Dollar Quartet" at the John W. Engeman Theatre in Northport, which also features Sarah Ellis. Credit: Michael DeCristofaro

“It’s the only instrument that I play in public,” says Corey Kaiser about the upright bass. Although he also plays the piano and alto saxophone, the Northport resident says he never truly envisioned a career performing onstage.

But that is where Kaiser found himself — first in his native Seattle and eventually on Broadway — as a cast member of “Million Dollar Quartet.” Kaiser, whose day job is software architect, is reprising his role as Brother Jay, the sibling of rockabilly pioneer Carl Perkins, at the John W. Engeman Theater in the Long Island town where he lives with his wife and 3-year-old daughter.

Though he had played gigs in some bands and did theater in high school, performing in a Tony Award-winning musical, he says, “was not on my radar.” When he heard about the Seattle production of "Quartet," he decided to try out. He got the part and continued with the show in New York.

When Kaiser heard that the show was being done at the Engeman, he reached out to the producers.The crowd-pleasing jukebox musical tells the true tale of how on one fateful day in December 1956, Carl Perkins, not long after the release of his iconic song “Blue Suede Shoes,” ends up in an impromptu jam session with nascent legends Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. Rock ‘n roll “wild man” and piano prodigy Jerry Lee Lewis also stops by the Memphis studio of recording impresario Sam Phillips and joins the historic music showdown.

Throughout the narrative and extraordinary string of smash hits — “Walk the Line," "Hound Dog," "Who Do You Love?," "Great Balls of Fire" — that make up “Million Dollar Quartet,” Kaiser is a fixture on stage, delivering both great music and lines.

In the Engeman production, which is the first time the musical is being presented in two acts, Kaiser leaves the raised platform at the back of the stage that he shares with musician David Sonneborn, a veteran of the show’s national tour who here plays the drummer Fluke. (James Barry, the show’s musical director, also appeared in the national tour, as Perkins.) When Kaiser steps off the riser, his bass comes with him. “We can’t avoid it being there so we decided to utilize and have fun with it,” he says. “I sit on it, lie on it, throw it over my head.”

While, more and more, he has been getting the chance to exercise his acting chops, Kaiser credits the establishment of his stage career to the show’s insistence on preserving the authenticity of the music. “They were looking for musicians who can act instead of the other way around," he says. "I had unknowingly done the research ahead of time, performing with bands who played for fans of that era of music.” 

Though he plans to continue working in the tech industry, Kaiser considers his experiences with “Million Dollar Quartet” priceless. “You have to seriously consider any opportunity,” the accidental actor says, wisely, “You never know what could happen.”

WHAT “Million Dollar Quartet”

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. Friday and Thursday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday, and 2 and 8 p.m. Wednesday, John W. Engeman Theater, 250 Main St., Northport

INFO $75 ($80 Saturday evenings); 631-261-2900, engemantheater.com

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