Scott Moreau is coming home.
Moreau, who grew up in Litchfield and graduated from Winthrop High School in 1997, plays Johnny Cash in the national tour of the musical “Million Dollar Quartet.” It tells the story of the impromptu recording session at Sun Studio in Memphis in 1956 that brought together Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Sam Phillips produced the recording, which remains one of the most celebrated sessions in rock ‘n’ roll history.
Portland Ovations brings the national tour of “Million Dollar Quartet” to Merrill Auditorium at 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday.
Moreau prepared for this part by singing and acting on stages across Maine and working in Bull Moose Music stores.
He was sorting discs at the Bull Moose in Lewiston when a friend with “crazy eclectic musical tastes” dropped one of Cash’s latest CDs in the player.
“He said, ‘You’ve got to listen to this,’ ” Moreau recalled. “I said, ‘I don’t know, man, I’m not into country music.’ ”
“And he said, ‘Trust me, this is not country.’ ”
Moreau’s life changed in that moment.
This was something different and special, and it sent Moreau on a quest for all things Cash. He bought all of Cash’s newer records and eventually worked his way through the late singer’s catalog of records dating to the 1950s.
He even paid homage to Cash with his own record, “Home Of the Blues: A Tribute to Johnny Cash,” which Moreau recorded at Sun Studio with his band, the Died Drunk Boys. (Fittingly, it’s available at Bull Moose).
He’s treated Cash almost as a mentor as he has learned more about the man, musician and writer. Portraying him on stage is an honor, he added.
“Other than his sound being original and writing the majority of his own music, as a person and as an icon, he is the archetype of the American dream,” Moreau said. “Here’s someone who came from a very poor background, farming in Arkansas, to become somebody that everybody knows. I think that’s a testament to his spirituality, hard work and that dream, saying ‘I am going to write a song and I am going on the radio.’ ”
After serving as an understudy for Phillips and Cash, Moreau landed the Cash role full time last year. He has played Cash 350 times on the national tour.
Moreau’s musical fuse was lit at Maine State Music Theatre in Brunswick. Hid dad taught Spanish at Brunswick High School, and Moreau spent a lot of time there. Brunswick became a second home of sorts. “Maine State Music Theatre was and still is Broadway to me,” he said. “Being on that stage meant making it.”
Moreau credits his coming-of-age on Maine stages for his success. He appeared in “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” at Brunswick, and landed roles at Arundel Barn Playhouse in southern Maine. He last performed at Arundel in 2004 — singing in three shows that summer — and he visits often, said artistic director Adrienne Grant.
“He was an audience favorite,” Grant said. “Like many of our actors who come to us very early in their careers, we watch them persevere and find success.”
When “Million Dollar Quartet” opened in Boston, the staff from Arundel went to see him, she said.
Curiously, Moreau has only been to Merrill Auditorium in Portland once, and that was as a ticket-holder to the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s “Magic of Christmas” two years ago.
When he has a week off, he usually ends up in Litchfield at his folks’ house. If he has more time off, which is rare, he spends it in New York.
After high school, Moreau went to Illinois Wesleyan University, graduating in 2001. He’s been on the road since. He’s done regional theater and dinner theater from Maine to Arizona. Including his two years as an understudy, this marks the beginning of his fourth year with “Million Dollar Quartet.”
The show won a Tony Award for Best Musical in 2010. It follows a familiar formula of recent nostalgia musicals: A loose storyline that supports an evening of songs we all recognize. In this case, the story is the evening of Dec. 4, 1956, when the Memphis jam session occurred. Perkins was in the studio that day to record, when Phillips suggested that Lewis sit in on piano. By chance, Presley showed up, followed later by Cash. None of it was planned.
They were all young and mostly unknown. Perkins had a hit with “Blue Suede Shoes,” and Cash had a few songs on the country charts. But they were all just beginning their careers.
The musical includes “Great Balls of Fire,” “Hound Dog,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Blue Suede Shoes” and many more.
The show has three casts. One is based in Chicago and another in Las Vegas. The touring cast goes wherever the show is booked.
That means Moreau is traveling like a rock star, doing what he loves. He appreciates the opportunity because it combines his love of theater with his love of music, both of which were hatched in Maine.
“Having a marriage of those two things is a dream job,” he said.
‘MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET’
WHEN: 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday
WHERE: Merrill Auditorium, 20 Myrtle St., Portland
HOW MUCH: $45 to $70 through PortTix; 842-0800
FREE TICKETS: Anyone holding a ticket to Elvis Presley’s scheduled concert in August 1977 at the Cumberland County Civic Center can get two free tickets to “Million Dollar Quartet.” Elvis died just before the Portland concert. People who still have a ticket can bring it or proof of it to the PortTix box office at Merrill for free tickets to the musical.
AMONG SCOTT MOREAU’S CREDITS:
“Cotton Patch Gospel”
“Million Dollar Quartet”
“Ragtime” and “The Mystery of Edwin Drood,” Seaside Music Theater, Daytona, Florida
“Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat,” Maine State Music Theatre, Brunswick
“Lucky Stuff,” Big Arts Schoolhouse Theatre, Sanibel Island, Florida
“Nunsense A-Men,” “Oliver” and “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” Arundel Barn Playhouse
“Johnny Guitar,” The Theater Barn, New Lebanon, New York