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Entertainer spreads joy from center stage

By Mark Johnston - Daily Herald - | Jan 6, 2014

Like a superhero shedding a disguise to reveal his true identity, Kerry Summers steps out of a changing room in full Elvis Presley attire and takes on a whole new demeanor. His costume is amazing: bright white with high collar and bell-bottoms; red, white and blue rhinestone eagles decorating his chest and shoulders. His hair is immaculate, shining black and standing tall upon his head, and his gold glasses and rings all glisten beneath the lights. No superhero or King of Rock and Roll would be complete without a cape, and when Summers spreads his arms, he reveals wings of an eagle made of hundreds more twinkling rhinestones.

Yet this is not a superhero in costume, nor does he believe he’s Elvis. Summers is a hard-working entertainer, a traveling, one-man variety show, who for the past 25 years has made a living and supported a family while doing the job he was born to do.

“My mother said when I was born and the doctor slapped me I thought it was applause and I’ve been going ever since,” Summers said with a laugh when asked how he got into the business.

Things really got started at the age of 8 when he was given a magic trick by his uncle and told once he perfected it he would be taught some more. Summers did so and throughout his high school years was known as a magician, performing numerous magic shows while also pursuing music, playing the trumpet in a variety of bands.

Being a rather shy kid, Summers used his talents in magic and music to break down barriers and soon began enjoying the attention it brought him. Some years later, at the age of 21, he also picked up ventriloquism and discovered a natural ability he never knew he had. When developing numerous voices for his dummies, Summers soon began perfecting impressions of different celebrities and public figures.

He loved the thrill of performing before an audience and his show continued to evolve into the one-man variety show it is today. Once strictly a magic show, he now demonstrates numerous talents and incorporates more comedy to provide an often much-needed release for his audiences. 

“Laughter makes you live longer,” said Summers, “And I’m going to live to be about 160.”

But there was a period when Summers wasn’t very happy at all when he found himself giving up his career to make ends meet. For years he worked for six different piano companies, selling pianos in shopping malls, stuck in the same routine while dreaming of being on stage once again. Eventually he had enough and, with the love and support of his family, got back to doing what he does best despite the challenges of working in a difficult business.

“Do you know what the difference is between an entertainer and a pizza? A pizza can actually feed a family of six,” joked Summers, making light of the challenges he faced.

Thankfully, his wife Carla saw and appreciated how much happiness Summers got from his work and she did all she could to help him in his career. This included assisting in performances, helping set up for shows and even making some impressive costumes that Summers now wears while working (Carla teaches costume design at UVU and has designed costumes for many plays and films).

These include a number of Elvis outfits that Summers began using after he incorporated an Elvis tribute into his show. Some years ago an agent heard him do an Elvis impression and was so impressed he encouraged a then-bearded Summers to use it more often. Shortly thereafter, before a television appearance, Summers went as far as dying his hair black and shaving his beard for a more convincing Elvis performance, a style that he continues to rock today.

“I don’t try to be Elvis when I’m on stage, I try to bring back memories of who he was for those watching,” he said. 

Numerous Elvis outfits, glasses and jewelry were added to his already growing list of props that he packs to each show: puppets, trumpet, magic tricks, microphones with lips, hair product, hairdryer, sound system, masks, inflatable guitars… The list goes on and on.

Not only does Summers have to pack these items when he performs locally, he also has to pass them under the watchful eye of the TSA at airports, as his work has taken him to 40 different countries and all the continents on earth. Just last week, packing numerous suitcases in his bedroom at home in Orem, Summers was preparing for his second trip to Antarctica onboard a cruise ship where he would put on three performances over a month.

Working with a booking agent based in Salt Lake City, Summers starts each year carefully planning ahead, scheduling performances at home and abroad. Much of his hard work produced good contacts, including many repeat clients, which now affords him the luxury of being able to plan his schedule as he chooses. Therefore, much of Summers’ time these days is spent performing on cruise ships where his wife can occasionally join him when her schedule permits.

While their time working aboard ships also comes with all the amenities of the cruise, including lodging, meals and shore excursions, it’s still a lot of hard work — especially when Summers has to travel alone.

“Everyone thinks it’s an easy, always-fun job. But traveling is really difficult and just getting 20 suitcases to a foreign country isn’t easy,” Carla said.

There are times Summers has returned from a cruise utterly exhausted and times he struggled to leave his family before a trip to a far-off destination, but it’s work he enjoys and travel experience he never wants to take for granted. Then when he’s home again, Summers gives his full attention to his wife, children and grandchildren before he eventually has to return to work: preparing new material, testing new material and packing for the next show wherever it might be.

“It doesn’t have to be [a performance] on a cruise ship, it can be in a nursing home on the next block; when he sees people having a better day because of him, that’s all he cares about, that enlivens him,” Carla said.

For more information on Kerry Summers’ One Man Variety Show visit KerrySummers.com.

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