Review by Allison G.
Music, excitement and humor… What more can you ask for from the cast of “Million Dollar Quartet”? Set in Memphis at Sun Records on December 4, 1956, Sam Phillips reminisces about the night Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley came together for the ultimate jam session. This session produced an album, and they were coined as the Million Dollar Quartet.
The show begins with the four of them performing Carl Perkins’ hit “Blue Suede Shoes.” Vince Nappo (expertly playing the role of Sam Phillips) enters the stage smoking a cigarette and introduces each musician as they stand frozen in a pose. He then sets the stage for the whole show.
As each of the musicians comes on stage and enters the recording studio stage set, Sam Phillips reminisces about when and how he first met each of them. Throughout the show, more is revealed about each of them (Elvis had a twin brother who died at birth; Jerry Lee Lewis wanted to be a preacher). The actors, playing each of their respected musicians, sing a few songs solo and some as a group as the story unfolds. Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne (Kelly Lamont) is also able to showcase her talent and beautiful, soulful voice on “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking.”
During the show, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash try to figure out how to tell Sam Phillips they’ve each signed a contract with Columbia Records; meanwhile Phillips is trying to decide whether to go work with RCA Victor in New York City. Towards the end, he takes a picture of the four men around the piano. The stage goes dark, bright white lights flashing to mimic camera bulbs. When the lights come up again, the original picture taken that December day in 1956 is projected on a large screen hanging above mid-stage.
By this point, you feel as if you have really been there seeing history being made.
All of the actors leave the stage, but then came back to cheering and a standing ovation. Sequined jackets descend from the ceiling, the actor/musicians put them on, which coordinate with the color they are wearing (Jerry Lee Lewis – red; Carl Perkins – blue; Johnny Cash – black; and Elvis Presley – yellow). Thus begins a mini-concert where everyone in the audience is up and dancing or clapping along with the beat. The electrifying ending puts everyone in a great mood.
I saw this musical at Proctors in Schenectady, the matinee on January 27. The minute the four began singing, I knew I was in for a lot of fun and possibly some good laughs. It took my breath away. They sang well known country and rockabilly staples such as “Blue Suede Shoes” (sung by all four), “Folsom Prison Blues” (sung by David Elkins/Johnny Cash), “Great Balls of Fire” (sung by Ben Goddard/Jerry Lee Lewis), and “Hound Dog” (sung by Billy Woodward/Elvis Presley). The acting and singing was phenomenal, and they looked like each of their respective idols. They had each of the singers’ movements down, like Elvis’ hip gyrating and Jerry Lee’s manic piano playing. Vince Nappo’s Sam Phillips and James Barry’s Carl Perkins looked most like their respective people. Mr. Nappo’s sarcasm and raw emotion brought Sam Phillips alive. James Barry and Ben Goddard’s feud was believable, harsh and comical at the same time.
When David Elkins began singing “Folsom Prison Blues” as Johnny Cash, I was taken aback. He sounded exactly like him and was able to hit all of the very low notes easily. At times, Ben Goddard’s Jerry Lee Lewis began to get annoying with his brash personality, but instantly won you over again with his wisecracks to James Barry. During the entire show, I felt as if I was really in the Sun Records studio watching history being made.
There were only three things about the whole of “Million Dollar Quartet” that didn’t add up in actual history. One example of this is that Elvis’ girlfriend at the time this event takes places is Marilyn Evans, not Dyanne. Another is that Carl Perkins’ brother, Jay (portrayed by Corey Kaiser), supposedly plays the upright bass throughout the show. In reality, he would not have been alive at the time. On March 22, 1956 on the way to New York City to appear on “The Perry Como Show,” they got into a car crash. Carl and Jay both survive the crash, but Jay later dies from complications. The last thing is very minor. In his book “Cash: The Autobiography,” states that he was first to arrive at Sun Studio that day because he wanted to watch Carl Perkins’ session. In the show, he is the third musician to arrive at the studio.
Overall, “Million Dollar Quartet” is worth seeing and earns my seal of approval. If you are still on the fence about seeing the show, check out if the tour is stopping at a theater near you and go see it. “Million Dollar Quartet” played at Proctors in Schenectady from January 22-27, 2013.
Greg Haymes’ review at Nippertown