Review: Million Dollar Quartet

Originally reviewed for

This makes a rollicking good time out of what could so easily be a corny tribute show. Million Dollar Quartet tells the story of what happened on December 4, 1956 at Sun Records’ storefront recording studio in Memphis, when Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley unexpectedly showed up at a Carl Perkins session, where Jerry Lee Lewis was playing piano.

Whether it was all a photo opportunity set up by Sun honcho Sam Phillips, or a pure chance occurrence, is the subject of some debate. However it came about, the four jammed on into the night, and Phillips kept the tape running as they played 40-some songs ranging from Chuck Berry rock songs to bluegrass, country and gospel.

If one read the show’s book (by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux) on the page, it would seem like corny, hero-worshipping fluff — it does a good job of capturing the personalities involved, but doesn’t go much further. Director Eric Schaeffer and his cast have, however, performed some kind of alchemy and have truly captured the raucous, decidedly Southern flavor of roots rock.

Perhaps the most crucial decision Schaeffer made was casting performers with extensive experience as working rock and roll musicians. Robert Britton Lyons clearly knows in detail what it means to play guitar like Carl Perkins, to the degree that his guitar is practically another character in the show. Perhaps the most impressive performance comes from out (and sexy) performer Levi Kreis as Jerry Lee Lewis. Of the four, Lewis had the brashest persona and the most flamboyant, out-of-control performance style, and Kreis very successfully “goes there.”

Lance Guest as Johnny Cash and Eddie Clendening as Elvis Presley also go miles beyond impersonation, finding human beings underneath the legends of “The King” and “The Man in Black”. If you have even the slightest taste for 1950s rock ’n’ roll, this is not to be missed.

For tickets, click here.

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