There’s a whole lotta shakin’ going on at the Bushnell this week, and the good vibes and the greater music is due in part, to a Connecticut guy, James Barry. The Mansfield native who graduated from UConn, is playing one of the star roles in the musical about a 1956 impromptu jam session at Sun Records featuring music legends Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. Barry, who plays Perkins, had plenty to be excited about Tuesday, opening night in Hartford. Not only would it have been Elvis Presley’s 78th birthday, but it was Barry’s first night on stage in the show, and what better place to open than in his home state. As part of the touring company, Barry, who has appeared on Broadway and regional theater, is prepared to rack up a lot of miles as the musical winds its way through America over the next several months. But while he was “home,” he was more than happy to Spill the Beans with Java.
Q: How did a guy like you end up in a place like this?
A: It is so good to be here. I was born and raised in Mansfield, my mom is a paraprofessional at Vinton Elementary School and my dad is a guidance counselor in Rhode Island. I always knew I definitely wanted to be an actor, and got my degree in acting from UConn in 2001. I started working the Mansfield Council of Arts in grade school. One of the first plays I remember doing was “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.” I was Edmund, the bratty one. I am not a bratty one now.
Q: You open here in Hartford on what would have been Elvis Presley’s birthday. Good karma? How much did you know about Carl Perkins when you auditioned for the role?
A: Excellent karma. I was so happy to get this role and even more excited about opening in my home state. I knew a decent amount about Carl Perkins. I really am an amateur rock and roll historian. “Dick Clark’s The First 25 First Years of Rock and Roll” was a book I was obsessed with. I knew Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” but that Elvis got the credit for it. And I knew the Beatles were huge fans of Perkins and that also fueled my interest in him.
Q: What song is your favorite in the show?
A: I love performing “Blue Suede Shoes” because it was Perkins’ biggest hit. And “Who do you Love.” And I love playing electric guitar on all the Johnny Cash songs.
Q: You say it is great to be opening in your home state but come on, isn’t it a little nerve-wracking too?
A: I am nervous but confident. The whole team on the show has been welcoming and supportive. My parents are coming to the show Friday. There is nothing bad about coming home to perform. I feel lucky, really, really lucky.
Q: Any of your old teachers or professors coming to the show?
A: Many of them are no longer teaching but I am hoping some will come. Professor David Alan Stern who was a teacher of mine at UConn is coming.
Q: For old friends who have lost track of you, what else are you up to?
A: I am married to actress Tara Franklin and we have a two-year-old son Sam. They are both traveling with me on the tour that goes through May. 12. We are having great fun on the road but it is nice to be here in Connecticut because it means seeing my family and some cooked meals. And my parents can’t wait to get their hands on Sam.
Q: And where is home now when you are not on the road?
A: We pay rent in Brooklyn.
“Million Dollar Quartet” plays through Sunday, Jan. 13. Tickets are $20 to $654. Go to bushnell.org for information.