ASU alum launches Rocketman tribute

By Seth Reines, August 2019 Issue.
photos by Brett Breiner

In 1972 Elton John’s hit single “Rocketman” shot to No. 2 in the UK and No. 6 in the US. Earlier this summer, Rocketman, a gay cinematic romp through Elton John’s early years starring Taron Egerton, hit the big screen. Now, under the auspices of Arizona production company Showtune Productions, Rocketman, the Elton John Tribute, premieres at Gilbert’s Hale Center Theatre on August 26.

Rocketman’s creator and star Colte Julian was born and raised in southwest Oklahoma where he learned how to drive a tractor before a car and started piano lessons at age nine. In college, Julian studied piano and agriculture before deciding on a career in music. With a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Oklahoma State University, Julian moved to Arizona to complete his Master’s Degree in Musical Theater Performance at Arizona State University.

Colte Julian.

After graduate school, Julian performed as a lead production singer with Holland America Cruise Lines before moving to New York City. With numerous regional credits, recording projects and New York cabaret performances under his belt, Julian moved to Chicago where he appeared in critically acclaimed Next to Normal and won a Jeff nomination as Best Leading Male Performer for his adaptation of Curly in Oklahoma!

In 2011, Julian joined the Chicago company of Million Dollar Quartet as Jerry Lee Lewis, continuing to perform with Million Dollar Quartet in the First National Tour, MDQ Vegas, and Million Dollar Quartet’s newest venture onboard Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Currently, Julian is music directing and featured in the new Vegas hit Elvis Presley’s Heartbreak Hotel in Concert. Echo visited him there to discuss his Phoenix connections and upcoming Rocketman project.

Colte Julian as Curly in a Chicago production of Oklahoma.

Echo: What are your ties to Phoenix’s theater scene?

Julian: I became an Equity Membership Candidate at Phoenix Theatre in the Tony Bennett musical revue, I Left My Heart. I played Perchik in Fiddler on the Roof (Zoni nomination) and the title role in Jekyll and Hyde at Arizona Broadway Theatre, Jesus in Godspell and Georg in She Loves Me at ASU, and Jaime in The Last Five Years at the Mesa Arts Center. The two years I spent at ASU and in the Phoenix area gave me so many performance opportunities in a supportive theater community. 

Echo: How are you approaching your Elton John?

Julian: I am not a fan of someone taking on the role of a person, especially a living person unless it is in the context of a scripted show or performance. I am approaching Elton John from the standpoint of a fellow musician with a deep and profound love and respect for his music. Will I wear fabulous costumes? Yes! Will I do fabulous things on and around the piano? You better believe it! Will I do my best attempt at a Middlesex accent? Sure! I want to take specific performance elements of Elton that make him unique and such a charismatic performer and expert musician and share how this music makes me feel and share a common experience with the audience.

Echo:  Have you played Elton before?

Julian: I have. Although, it was in a very specific context. I was in a production of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat in Chicago that was set in Las Vegas. I played Jacob, Potiphar, and Pharaoh. Jacob was a mob boss, Potiphar was Wayne Newton, and Pharaoh was, you guessed it, Elton John. It was a riot! I had so much fun riding out on stage on a glittery piano with my “Tiny Dancer” boys as backup dancers.

Echo: What would you like LGBTQ audiences to know about your Rocketman tribute?

Colte Julian as Elton John.

Julian: I believe a huge aspect of Elton’s performance and musical style is rooted in his sexuality, even if he wasn’t thoroughly open about it for a large portion of his career. While I identify as straight, I have huge respect for this and see Elton as always being true to himself while on stage. This “truth” is a grounding principle of my own as I’ve navigated roles from Curly to Jerry Lee Lewis to Perchik. They all have an element of truth and honesty. The world needs more Elton and the LGBTQ+ community needs more allies now more than ever. I hope that my Elton can be a small part of that movement for those that come to see the show.

For more information on Colte Julian’s Rocketman performances in August at Hale Center Theatre and future 2020 Valley performances, visit showtuneproductions.com.