Wow! Wow! Wow! Wow! And uh…WOW!!! From the opening blast of “Blues Suede Shoes” to the thunderous finale of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” Million Dollar Quartet” is two hours of solid Rock and Roll. In all twenty three monster hits celebrating the early years of Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley. Add to this an excellent story line concerning the history of Sun Records and founder Sam Phillips and you have an extraordinary night of exceptional entertainment.
While not dead ringers for the stars they portray, that becomes a non-issue when they kick the music into high gear. This is Rock and Roll…Baby! The way it used to be done. It’s loud and wild and a little bit naughty and deep at its core is the Delta Blues that started the whole rock and roll ball rolling.
James Barry plays Carl Perkins as well as some masterful guitar. He is the rock center of the music. Scott Moreau is Johnny Cash who is able to go subterranean with his bass voice until the crystal chandeliers in the lobby begin to vibrate. John Countryman plays Jerry Lee Lewis with all the brashness of the original and he literally destroys the piano in the two hours. Tyler K Hunter plays Elvis Presley with swagger when he sings but humble in the presence of Mr. Sam Phillips. There is a cute a’la Vegas segment were he gives his scarf to a fan…well played. Added to the mix is Cory Keiser as Jay Perkins with his stand up bass. He spins it, he lifts it over his head, he plays it behind his back, he rides it like a horse, he lets Carl Perkins climb it like Mount Kilimanjaro…he even does a little planking as he rides it like a surf board.
David Sonneborn plays Fluke the Drummer and he is no fluke keeping a steady strong back beat to the proceedings. Stephanie Lynne Mason plays Dyanne (Elvis’ girl friend du jour) who gets to belt out “Fever”, “I Hear You Knocking” and a haunting soprano background for Johnny Cash’s “Riders in the Sky”. Rounding out the cast is Vince Nappo as Sam Phillips who brings to life Sam’s love of great Rock and Roll.
The set is nothing short of great. Far left is an upright piano which is Jerry Lee's domain, back behind it and just to the right is the entrance to the studio. There is a raised platform to the right of the door that runs the length of the wall where the Bass player is paired with the drummer at his drum set. In front of the platform are a variety of guitars both acoustic and electric. There are three mikes (the old time "foil" mikes) down stage near the audience. Far right is the recording room with an array of reel to reel recorders and sound board. There is a door leading into the room. Above the studio are projected old time advertisements to lend a fifties feel. The lighting was spectacular with pin point spots for various performers plus a brilliant burst of light that flooded the stage when the whole cast was rocking.
Sun Records was began by Sam Phillips on March 27, 2952 and was primarily a studio whose emphasis was on recording African-American musicians in the hopes of reaching a white audience. The reason for this was simple. Sam Phillips liked Rhythm and Blues. When Rock-a-Billy and Rock and Roll hit the scene Sam was there to start the careers of names that would soon become household words as well as some who barely came in over the radar.
Sam was responsible for launching the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Lee Riley, Carl Perkins, Jeanie C. Riley, The Dixie Cups, Merle Haggard, Bill Justice, Charlie Rich, Jack Clement, Carl Mann, Conway Twitty, Frank Frost, Jason D, Williams, The Ad Libs, Roger Miller, Warren Smith, Roscoe Gordon, Charlie Feathers, Malcolm Yelvington, Sonny Burgess, Howlin' Wolf, Slim Rhodes, Harmonica Frank, James Cotton, Billy "The Kid", Jack Earls, The Prisonaires, Jimmy Parker, Rufus Thomas (with daughter Carla), Willie Nix and Little Milton. The recording studio was sold to Shelby Singleton in 1969 which mainly does reissue of recordings.
As the show begins, Sam Phillips lost Elvis a year ago but that deal helped him put Sun Records in the black. He is trying to resign Johnny Cash to a multi-year deal but Johnny has already agreed to a contract with Columbia when his Sun Records contract runs out. Joining him (and also leaving Sam) will be Carl Perkins, his brother Jay Perkins and Fluke the drummer. It is December 4, 1956 and Carl has assembled in his plain one room studio artists that will one day change what everyone thinks of music.
Elvis is in town to visit his family over the holidays and has a serious relationship going on with Dyanne who is also a singer. Johnny Cash stops by for “a minute” and Carl Perkins is there for a recording session for his song “Matchbox” along with his brother and a session drummer. There is also this brash new kid, Jerry Lee Lewis who at first gets on everyone nerves but his playing ability soon wins them over. Over the course of the evening, the group trades wit and music as well as heartbreak.
The music is what will become some the most beloved hits in the world. From the rocking “Who Do You Love” to the lowdown “Folsom Prison Blues” to the hot as ice “Fever” and even some Gospel “Peace in the Valley” thrown in it is a night of rock and roll history all culminating in a raucus rocked out version of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”.
Prude Alert: There are some light sexual references, but hey, its rock and roll. If it’s too loud…your too old.
Beefs and Flubs: This is a flawless performance with great singing that perfectly matches the originals, great music by accomplished musicians and great acting.
Shooting From The Lip (In My Opinion): Of all the musical reviews that I have seen this is absolutely the best one ever. The cast hits the ground running and does not look back. It is high energy rock and roll with healthy portions of pure heart. I would pay to see this again.
“Million Dollar Quartet” will play through August 3, 2014 at PlayhouseSquare. Evening performances are Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m.; Sunday evenings at 6:30 p.m.; and matinee performances Saturday at 1:30 p.m. and Sunday at 1:00 p.m.
For more information, please visit the official “Million Dollar Quartet”
website at MillionDollarQuartetLive.com.