The director yells “Playback!” and the driving thump-thump rhythm of “Oh, Pretty Woman” rocks the soundstage.
A man begins lip-syncing to the track, which he recorded earlier. He sounds very much like Roy Orbison. He looks very much like Roy Orbison.
But wait! It’s Chris Isaak.
On the “American Dreams” set, Isaak is recreating one of the historic moments of “American Bandstand,” a regular feature of this NBC series chronicling the shifting cultural, social and political mores of the Pryor family of Philadelphia in the 1960s.
(MSNBC is a joint venture of Microsoft and NBC.)
Teenage daughter Meg Pryor (Brittany Snow) and her pal Roxanne Bojarksi (Vanessa Lengies), both of whom are regular “Bandstand” dancers, are in the audience as “Orbison” sings his 1964 hit, now a classic.
“It’s fun hitting the high notes,” says actor-musician Isaak, who had recorded the song the previous day, with his brother, Nick, handling the famous Orbison growl.
Chris Isaak, whose own music can sound remarkably like Orbison’s, performs on a set made to look like the Philadelphia studio where Dick Clark originally produced “American Bandstand.”
“That’s his real hair. Not a wig. How cool is that! Amazing!” exclaims Jonathan Prince, co-executive producer with Clark of “American Dreams,” which airs 8 p.m. ET Sunday.
It took hairstylist Michelle Weiss about 45 minutes to create the distinctive Orbison coif. “Chris Isaak has your average modern male haircut. I colored it with mousse three times, teased it with a whole bottle of hairspray and then spray painted it black and then drew in hair on the forehead.”
Beneath the thick helmet, Isaak wears Orbison’s trademark dark glasses and black clothing, and his face has been lightened by makeup to achieve the Orbison pallor.
“I always loved Roy Orbison,” says Isaak, star of his own behind-the-scenes rock series, now in its final season on Showtime. He notes they both grew up in “hot, flat, dusty places” — Orbison in Vernon, Texas, Isaak in Stockton, Calif. — and “when I met him we just clicked.”
He said performing was “a surrealistic moment ... I’m dressed up like Roy, who I liked as a kid and watched on TV, who I met as an adult and played and sang with and became a friend. I talked to his widow, Barbara, yesterday. Some place up high, if he’s watching, he’s going ‘Wow, how strange!”’
Let's do the time warp
Previous guest performers on “American Dreams” who have recreated the looks and sounds of earlier singers include India.Arie as Nina Simone, LeAnn Rimes as Connie Francis, Kelly Clarkson as Brenda Lee, Hilary Duff and her sister Haylie as the Shangri-Las and, earlier this month, Nick Lachey as Tom Jones.
The wardrobe, hair and makeup departments of “American Dreams,” now in its second season, match up the era’s look, not only for the musical guest stars but the show’s regulars.
Weiss has “about 50 wigs, styled and prepped on blocks ready to be used at any time because it’s 2004 and there’s red hair, pink hair, spiked hair, corn-rowed hair, men with bleached blond hair — none of that was 1960s. Anything goes today, but then it was very, very different — for girls you just had a flip, a beehive, a French twist, a page boy and a pony tail.”
“The ’60s is such a beautiful period and we are right in the middle of it,” says costume designer Vicki Sanchez as she sits in front of a rack that includes a fringed mini-dress worn by Jennifer Love Hewitt as Nancy Sinatra singing “These Boots Are Made For Walkin”’ on a January show.
Love Hewitt is playing Sinatra again in Sunday’s episode with Isaak as Orbison.
This time Sinatra is on a USO tour to Vietnam, performing for the troops, which include the Pryors’ oldest son, JJ (Will Estes).
Love Hewitt, the former “Party of Five” star who filled the title role in the 2000 TV biopic “The Audrey Hepburn Story,” loves the female empowerment of Sinatra’s persona and song.
“It’s a kind of really neat message and a fun thing to be part of — to get to shake around, feel sexy, wear the boots and know I have all that power,” she says.
She made her version of Sinatra’s songs by listening to the originals and then recording verse by verse. It took about an hour and 15 minutes to properly capture “Boots.”
She said hair and makeup took a little longer — “adding lashes and lots of yummy eyeliner and big, blond hair.”