Elvis and Johnny often leave the building at the same time.
Kavan Hashemian, 29, plays Elvis and Stephen Hardy, 25, plays Johnny Cash in the Playhouse on the Square production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” which opens Friday May 5 and runs through May 28.
Hashemian and Hardy also appearing in a two-man-show, “An Acoustic Tribute to Sun and Stax,” at 8 p.m. Sundays and Mondays beginning May 7 through May 28 at King Jerry Lawler’s hall of fame Bar & Grille on Beale Street.
The two share an apartment in a building not far from the theater.
Hashemian, who lives in Columbus, Ohio, began dressing like the King as a child. His grandmother was a big Elvis fan. “I think my first time on stage was when I was three years old,” he said. “Dressed as Elvis. In a homemade costume that my grandmaw made. It was black slacks and a white button-up shirt that she had painted the ‘Elvis’ lettering on. And some other iron-on logos like maybe Cadillacs and stuff like that. They styled my hair and they painted sideburns on me.”
Their local Elvis, Mike Albert, a former Images of the King Elvis tribute artist contest winner in Memphis, invited Hashemian to join him on stage at one of his shows. “I think there were a few other kids dressed up like Elvis in the audience. He called all the little Elvises on stage. I got up there and just started dancing. I think it was ‘Jailhouse Rock.’”
Hashemian was hooked. Two years later he and his family began visiting Memphis during Elvis Week. “I haven’t missed a year. And some years we’ve come multiple times.”
When he was 17, Hashemian won third place in Images of the King. He began starring as Elvis in professional shows a short time later. He won contests in Lake George, N. Y. and Ft. Myers, Fla. and won the “World’s No. 1 Rock and Roll Elvis” title in the “The World’s Greatest Elvis” contest in London.
Elvis was “the greatest entertainer of all time,” but Hashemian’s quest is to learn everything he can about the King. “That fuels my spirit to keep me wanting to perform and perfect my tribute and get it as close to him as I can.”
Albert helped Hashemian get the Elvis role in a production of “Million Dollar Quartet” in Springboro, Ohio. Since then, Hashemian has performed the role in the musical in Fredericksburg, Va. before coming to Memphis.
Hardy, who lives in South Carolina, was born in Greenville, South Carolina, but he grew up in Brighton, Tenn. He sang in the church choir before he was 10 years old.
He began playing guitar when he was 14 in South Carolina. “When I was learning guitar I started learning Johnny Cash, Elvis songs. Me leaving and going to South Carolina made me appreciate the music that comes out of Memphis.”
Hardy played in bands and performed solo gigs in clubs, but rockabilly and Memphis music usually was in the mix.
As Hashemian’s understudy in the Springboro production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” Hardy got to play Elvis three times. “I was pretty nervous to portray Elvis. It was kind of a big thing to jump into. Even though I play his music, I do it in different keys for some songs. But I’m a lower voice and Elvis could get up there.”
“We spent a few nights going over some dance moves, too,” Hashemian said.
“He did a great job teaching me certain hip movements and all that,” Hardy said.
Hardy preferred playing Carl Perkins because their guitar players styles are similar or Cash because of the similarity in their voices. “I can get kind of low and talk like him.”
He was thrilled to land the Cash role in the Memphis production, which is directed by Mike Detroit. “It was the part I was really wanting. It comes more naturally to me. It’s going to be my first full run of the show.”
Playing Elvis in Memphis isn’t like playing him in other cities, Hashemian said. “I always play Elvis as true as I can, but here in Memphis - knowing that there are going to be people in the audience who went to school with Elvis, have a story about Elvis when their mom met Elvis or dated Elvis - it’s just like I feel like I have a responsibility to the people of Memphis to just do my absolute best.”
They’re not playing any of their “Million Dollar Quartet” songs in their “Acoustic Tribute to Sun and Stax” show on Beale Street. In addition to other Elvis songs, they’re going to perform songs from other entertainers from Sun Records and Stax. Otis Redding’s “Sitting on the Dock of the Bay” is one of the songs they’re going to perform together.
For their Beale Street show, Hardy and Hashemian won’t be sporting their gleaming “Million Dollar Quartet” pompadour or slicked back styles.
Hardy, who wears his hair slicked back as Cash, said, “I put Murray’s Beeswax on it. Some pretty tough stuff. Sometimes I’ll mix together other pomades with it just to give it a shine.”
Hashemian’s four-inch high pompadour is more complex. He uses American Crew forming cream, which, he said, “is like a pomade but it’s a little bit thicker. It’s a whole process of putting the forming cream in and blow drying it as I style it. And then doing the hair spray when you get it in place. I’ll comb through it a few times
‘cause I’ll reshape it. It’s about an hour process.”