Becoming “The Killer”

“I remember once being asked, ‘How does a nice Jewish boy from the Jersey suburbs end up playing a hot-headed, gospel-singing bad boy from the wetlands of Louisiana?’” shared Jason Cohen, Great Balls of Fire front man and show co-creator. “The answer is in the music—in being taken over by the physical, cathartic experience of playing Rock & Roll as loud and as fast as possible.”

Looking at Cohen’s resume, you’d be surprised to see that he typically plays characters who are much milder than the Rock & Roll wild man, like Andrej in the Broadway musical Once and Simeon in Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Still, Cohen devoted himself to learning as much as he could about Jerry Lee Lewis, from Lewis’ early life to his onstage mannerisms. Cohen listened to Lewis’ records note by note, practiced (and mastered) the legend’s piano hits, and watched almost every video imaginable of Lewis performing. One video in particular stood out to him.

Jason Cohen in Great Balls of Fire. Photo by Annabelle Cuitino.

“There’s one video I referenced a lot, ” said Cohen. “He’s playing ‘A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ for a crowd in London in 1964, and there’s all these kids around his piano. He has this insane control over the audience. It looks like they’re all possessed—they’re reaching for his hair like he’s God. It’s honestly an incredible thing to see.”

When the national tour of Million Dollar Quartet ended, Cohen just wasn’t ready to put the character down. And so, he took the next logical step: he created his own show about Jerry Lee Lewis.

Great Balls of Fire was born.

“When I was in Million Dollar Quartet, the music resonated with everyone,” said Cohen. “It united me with the audience, the audience members with one another, and even myself with Jerry Lee. I wanted to bring that experience back with Great Balls of Fire.”

Great Balls of Fire, created by Jason Cohen and Michael Schiralli, with musical arrangements by Cohen and the show’s cast, is now playing in FST’s Court Cabaret. For tickets or more information, click here.