In the Spotlight:
Kelly Holiff from Million Dollar Quartet

Kelly at the mic. Elvis on his knees beside her. Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and the band in the background.


Kelly Holiff is the feminine energy, weaving the men of Million Dollar Quartet together on the stage. Her role, Dyanne, is based on the very real Marilyn Evans whom Elvis brought to Sun Records on that fateful night in December 1956. She is in the iconic photo of the four rock ‘n’ rollers – though often cropped out – and you can hear her on full versions of the recordings too.

However, you won’t catch anyone cropping Kelly Holiff out of a photo! She is a verified triple-threat and her magnetic stage presence and thrilling voice have her sought by theatre companies across the country – from Halifax’s Neptune Theatre to the Stratford Festival, Soulpepper, and now the Grand (just to name a few). We sat down with Kelly to chat about her soaring career, playing Dyanne, and growing up with Johnny Cash in the family!

Grand Theatre: If you could say anything to Marylin Evans, who Dyanne is based on, what would it be?

Kelly Holiff: If I could say anything to Marylin Evans … Oh, I'd be so interested in having lunch with her! I would say: “Your confidence is magnetic and inspiring.” Playing this part, understanding how much confidence it took for her to walk into that space with these men and be a whole human. You can actually hear her on the recordings. I would say thank you for not having me be a wallflower in this show, and letting me like drive the story a little bit. Even though there are parts of the show that are written to make it a play, it wouldn't have happened if Marilyn wasn't the woman that she was.

GT: What 50s and 60s slang do you think we should bring back?

KH: Fellas! Dyanne says “fellas” a lot.

GT: We heard that you’ve performed for both President Clinton and President Bush! Can you share a bit about that story and experience?

KH: They were speaking at a big gala and I was hired to sing before they came out. I was invited to meet them beforehand - and I am like impressively awkward at the best of times - so the only thing I knew to say, even though I know a lot about them, was something like “I'm a big fan of your saxophone playing” to Bill Clinton. And then I had to go sing!

I got to hear them speak close up, and it was special that they were speaking together. After I sang, I had a seat waiting for me near the front and they were very, very close. I never thought I would ever do anything like that!

GT: Welcome to the Grand! You’ve worked at so many incredible theatres all over the country. Is there anything that sets the Grand apart for you? Do we set ourselves apart in any way, for you as an artist?

KH: I'm so happy to be here! I've been around for a bit and worked at many different theatres fortunately enough and I've always wanted to work at the Grand because I know how beautiful it is. I am also obsessed with the environment here. It's so positive and it just feels like a really well-oiled machine for everybody, in every department. It just feels positive to be here. I've had friends that have worked here, of course, and everybody says the same thing.

I also have a bit of family history here. Being here even on the first day, it felt like I knew this place.

GT: You grew up with Johnny Cash in the family, through your uncle and his manager, Saul Holiff. Does this personal connection come to your role and work with you? How so?

KH: My whole family has been waiting for the day that I'm in something Johnny Cash-related! It's finally happening and it's happening in London, which is huge for my family. I feel it. I feel it every time Adam (Stevenson) opens his mouth. My family is going to love Adam.

Johnny was a huge part of my family. My Dad’s side of the family is a lot of producer/manager types. They’ve managed Jim Carrey and Howie Mandel, but Johnny was the big one for my uncle. My uncle’s life was dedicated to Johnny Cash. They were super close and it was tumultuous and loving and just so interesting. I remember growing up my whole life hearing about Johnny and it was such a huge part of my existence.

GT: Do you have a favourite Johnny Cash story or memory that you could share?

KH: When they were doing the film, My Father and the Man in Black, which was a huge docu-movie about Saul Holiff and Johnny Cash, they wanted to include me because I'm part of the family. But I don't look like anyone in my dad's family, like at all, I have my mother's everything. So I got a little cameo! I'm a waitress, I walk in and pour tea and then I leave.

GT: If you had a jukebox and a quarter, what song would you choose?

KH: I'm going to keep it in the world of Million Dollar Quartet because if not, there's just too many. “Whole Lotta Shakin” it's just so fun. “Great Balls of Fire” or “Walk the Line”. “Hound Dog!”

GT: Does it change if you're in a bar or at a restaurant (with a jukebox in your booth)?

KH: 100%. “Walk the Line” is in a restaurant. “Hound Dog”, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Shake” is in a bar.

GT: Tell us about your favourite moment (or moments) from the show. What do you look forward to performing or watching each time you go through it?

KH: My favourite moment is watching the four do “Down by the Riverside”. It's my favourite moment. I get to sit at the piano and they're just doing their thing. These guys are so mega-talented. I'm blown away every single day watching them work. They're so good at what they do. I've seen Million Dollar Quartet, I've seen it quite a few times, and I've never seen a cast like this one. These guys are wild. You're gonna lose your minds and watching them sing “Down by the Riverside”, you can hear everyone's nuance. You hear everything. It's shocking. How is anybody this talented?


Million Dollar Quartet plays through to May 11 on the Grand Theatre Spriet Stage. For tickets, information about enhancing your experience, and other behind-the-scenes moments, click here.

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Pictured: Company members of Million Dollar Quartet. Directed and Choreographed by Julie Tomaino. Music Direction by Patrick Bowman. Set Design by Joshua Quinlan. Costume Design by Laura Delchiaro. Lighting Design by Michelle Ramsay. Sound Design by Brian Kenny. Photography by Dahlia Katz.