Actor a natural to play Jerry Lee Lewis


His band is called Jefferson McDonald’s Great Balls of Fire, but that’s only part of the story.

“There is a common misconception that I am a Jerry Lee Lewis tribute artist,” McDonald said. “I play everything, starting with classical music as a youngster, and it was only during the pandemic that I started playing 1950s rock ‘n’ roll shows under a variety of names. I was going out as Jefferson McDonald and his Rockabilly Buddies for a while. I recorded an album at my cousin’s studio called ‘Memphis.’ Prior to the pandemic, I had penned a musical called ‘Jerry Lee Lewis VS Jerry Lee Lewis.’

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Jefferson McDonald to play Jerry Lee Lewis in ATI’s production of “Million Dollar Quartet.” (Photo courtesy of Jonathan Charles Fox)

“My show that I tour on cruise ships is called Jefferson McDonald’s Great Balls of Fire, but it covers a wide variety of artists, from Ray Price to Willie Nelson, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry and, of course, Jerry Lee Lewis.”

Fittingly, McDonald will portray Lewis and serve as music director for the Actors Theatre of Indiana’s production of “Million Dollar Quartet,” set for 7:30 p.m. June 16-17 at the Palladium at the Center for the Performing Arts in Carmel.

McDonald has performed productions of “Million Dollar Quartet” at several venues, including four times on Norwegian Cruise Lines ships. The first time he did the show was at Arrow Rock (Mo.) Lyceum Theatre in 2016.

“It’s been quite a blessing to do this show, and it’s been a wonderful introduction to some incredible theaters,” he said. “Some of them have brought me back for many productions. When I initially auditioned for ‘Million Dollar Quartet,’ I was intrigued by the role of Jerry Lee Lewis as I thought it was just hilariously written. I knew that the originator of the role, Levi Kreis, had won a Tony (award) for his performance, so I knew there must be some meat on the character’s bones, and I was not wrong. I’ve always had a knack for comedic roles. I sought them out, and this just seemed like the perfect pairing, particularly since I had the piano chops to back it up. I’m looking forward to diving back into the role and sharing it with ATI audiences. I know they’ve seen the show before and enjoyed it, but I’m hoping to give them a different interpretation of the role they haven’t seen before.”

McDonald had a few influences in acting.

“Watching my uncles succeed in show business had a lot to do with me taking the leap and moving to NYC,” McDonald said. “My uncle, Daniel McDonald, was a Broadway and television star, and my uncle Chris McDonald has had a brilliant career on stage and screen as well.”

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