by Julian Spivey
Million Dollar Quartet, the Tony Award-winning Broadway musical, brought its touring company to the Ed Coulter Performing Arts Center on the campus of Arkansas State University-Mountain Home on Thursday, April 30th for a fantastic performance that left the packed crowd fascinated.
Million Dollar Quartet tells the story of that faithful night on Dec. 4, 1956 when four future legends Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins all met up at Sun Records in Memphis for an impromptu recording session. The quartet would be dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet” by a journalist who happened to be there that night and the photograph of the four of them around a piano is quite possibly the most iconic photo in music history.
Sun Records founder and record producer Sam Phillips (played by Andrew Frace) is manning the recording booth for a Carl Perkins (played by H. Bradley Waters) recording session in hopes of finding the scuffling performer a second hit after “Blue Suede Shoes.” Phillips is incredibly excited because he’s invited Elvis Presley (played by Jacob Rowley), whom he made a star before selling to RCA to keep his doors open, back to the studio. Elvis is hoping Phillips will join him at RCA. Phillips is doubly excited as he’s also invited Johnny Cash (played by Scott Moreau) to the studio this night in hopes of signing him to a contract extension. Tension ratchets up that night when a youngster out of Louisiana shows up hoping to make a name for himself and that name, as he frequently lets you know, is Jerry Lee By-God Lewis (played by Colte Julian).
Million Dollar Quartet is mostly performance with a storyline mixed in and that’s just fine. The cast is able to fit 23 performances into an hour and a half performance, while also telling the story of Sun Records, which is truly an amazing accomplishment. I’d personally love to see Million Dollar Quartet adapted into a motion picture version, but for that to happen there would definitely have to be a lot more story added to it and a little less on the performance side. However, you could really tell the audience was digging the fact that the show was jam-packed with performances.
The greatest thing about Million Dollar Quartet is the actors aren’t just impersonating Presley, Cash, Lewis and Perkins, but they actually have to perform all of their instruments live. There’s no faking it on the Million Dollar Quartet stage, which is truly fascinating especially when you see Julian play the piano as Lewis or Waters’ fantastic guitar playing as Perkins.
There wasn’t really anything I didn’t care for in the musical, however I do wonder if the character of Dyanne (played by Laura Obenauf), a fictionalized take on Elvis’ then girlfriend Marilyn Evans, wasn’t just inserted into the musical for sex appeal. The character of Dyanne doesn’t impact the musical really in any way, but Obenauf’s performances of “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking” are certainly enough to keep the men in the audience’s attention.
All of the performances in Million Dollar Quartet are incredibly entertaining with Julian’s performance as Lewis perhaps being a highlight because of the energy/personality that the real Jerry Lee Lewis brought to his music. I found Waters’ performance as Perkins to be really talented, as that accompanied with the storyline really hit home the true story of Perkins getting a raw deal from Phillips and Sun Records, despite giving the company its’ first ever hit.
If you’re into great, old school rock & roll music I highly recommend finding Million Dollar Quartet when they come to a city near you. It’ll truly take you back to that unbelievable night in 1956.