I wasn’t expecting to enjoy Million Dollar Quartet as much as I did. In fact, I loved it! So much talent on one stage should be illegal.
I must admit that going into the show, I didn’t have great expectations. First off, the music of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins never really spoke to me. I appreciate it, but it’s not really my thing. However, it’s virtually impossible to resist it when you have four talented actors, singers AND musicians playing their music in their uncanny style with such excitement. Yes, the band was the actors, the actors were the band — along with help from Chuck Zayas on bass and Billy Shaffer on drums. You will clap and tap, much as you might resist after a long Wednesday.
With musicians of such pedigree, naturally the show has to be light on plot to showcase the music. I appreciate this — I’m annoyed when jukebox musicals inject some half-baked story into a show just because they feel the need to (I’m talking to you, Jersey Boys). Instead, Quartet is loosely based on an actual evening in winter of 1956 when these four musicians crossed paths in the rickety Sun Records recording studio that made them stars. They had a legendary jam session before moving on to bigger and better things.
It’s an amazing cast, but I must single out James Scheider as Jerry Lee Lewis. He was the understudy, and I have to say it was one of the best understudy performances I’ve ever seen. Not only is he a compellingly charming actor, his virtuosic piano playing took it over the top. And then he took it even more over the top with his final number, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” where he literally stomped on the piano with his feet. It amazes me that a piano can take a beating like that every night. A star performance.
While I don’t know much about Johnny Cash other than Walk the Line, Lance Guest is quite convincing. Another fantastic singer and guitar player, and his acting credits are just as impressive. Rob Lyons is super charming as Carl Perkins, the “American Pioneer of Rockabilly.” Perkins wrote “See You Later Alligator” and “Blue Suede Shoes.” Eddie Clendening looks very much the part as a young Elvis Prestly, and he scores big on his numbers. When he isn’t singing, however, Clendening fades into the background. He needs to speak up! I could barely hear his lines, and I could tell the older theatregoers just gave up on trying to decipher what he was saying after a while.
Kelly Lamont (what a name!) brings some female power as blonde bombshell Dyanne, Elvis’ tag-along girlfriend. She is there mainly to hit the high notes in the group numbers after performing a steamy rendition of “Fever.” She also shimmies and plays the tambourine with verve. Loved her dress.
As legendary Sun Records producer Sam Phillips, Brian McCaskill keeps the dramatic through-line going, desperately hoping this million dollar quartet signs on again with a contract perpetually waiting in his lapel pocket; however, we all knew this isn’t in the cards. He’s the guy who created these legendary artists from the ground up, and it’s hard to see them turn their backs on him at the end. But, you know — show business!
I highly recommend this show, which is playing an open-ended run. You will leave smiling and in awe of the talent on this small stage. More info here.