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Million Dollar Quartet in Denver worth every penny

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Million Dollar Quartet

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Great Balls of Fire! There's a Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On at the Denver Center for Performing Arts. You'll be tapping your toe from the first bar of "Blue Suede Shoes" that opens the high-energy show to the surprise ending that plunges the crowd into rock 'n roll delirium.

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Million Dollar Quartet is the hillbilly homecoming of rockers Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins based on one night’s jam session at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis on December 4, 1956.

What started out as a recording session for Perkins accompanied by the piano of yet unknown Lewis turns into an impromptu jam fest when Presley and Cash stop by. Realizing the the talent in the room, Phillips asks a reporter from the local paper to document the gathering. The journalist takes the now-famous photo and dubs the four the “Million Dollar Quartet” in his article where he calls the landmark event “an old fashioned barrel-house session with barbershop harmonies resulting.”

Anyone in the audience on opening night January 25 would argue the barbershop part: this is plain old rockabilly gettin’ down!

There is some drama during the 90-minute, no-intermission show (both Cash and Perkins tell Phillips they have left Sun to sign with Columbia, and Carl Perkins is still miffed that even though he wrote and recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” in 1956, it was Presley’s re-recording that made it famous), but mostly it’s music and memories. If you grew up in the pre-Beatles era, you won’t want to miss this.

On that history-making night, 21-year-old Presley had already attained movie stardom, had just appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and was on his way to his iconic career as the King of Rock ’n Roll. Cash had crossed over from county hits to the pop charts, Perkins was trying to recapture the success of his first hit, and Lewis was the brazen newcomer with a wild piano act. He knew what he wanted: “You made a big star out of Elvis Presley,” he said to Phillips, “and I want you to do the same for me.”

He was right. Phillips launched each of men’s careers; a man with an instinct for the right sound.
“Rock and Roll isn’t a fad,” he said. “It’s a revolution.”

John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis, Lee Ferris as Carl Perkins, Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash and Cody Ray Slaughter as Elvis Presley not only sound like the icons, they have all the characteristic movements down pat and are amazing musicians. Kelly Lamont as Presley’s girlfriend delivers a steaming “Fever,” and Vince Nappo plays the hyper studio boss Phillips, at times talking too fast.

Be sure to check out the Hard Rock International Memorabilia display cases in the lobby of the Buell Theatre. They hold Jerry Lee Lewis’ paisley velvet jacket, Elvis Presley’s long brown suede trench coat, Johnny Cash’s Natural 1971 Martin D-35 guitar and Carl Perkins’ Blue Gibson '96 Country Gentleman electric guitar.

Million Dollar Quartet plays The Buell through March 9. Performance dates are Tuesday-Sunday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. For tickets, call 303-893-4100 or visit www.denvercenter.org.

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