December 4, 1956 was a night that made musical magic in Rock ‘n’ Roll history. On that night in the legendary Sun Records recording studio four legends got together for a jam session that has not been matched since. The four musicians were Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. Million Dollar Quartet, now playing at The Kennedy Center, is a musical based on the events of that evening. With 23 classic songs and solid characterizations, this is a show that will have you singing along and by the end dancing in the aisles, while learning some things you might not have known about these four musical icons.
“…three to get ready and go cat go” to the Rock ‘n’ Roll love letter called ‘Million Dollar Quartet.’
The show’s main story deals with record producer Sam Phillips (Vince Nappo) whose Sun Records studio was responsible for discovering Elvis Presley. Presley has since moved on to RCA and the check from that sale kept Phillips from going bankrupt. As the show starts Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye) has arrived at the studio from Ferriday, Louisiana to seek his fortune. He is quite energetic and has no scruples. When he is asked to play on Carl Perkins’s (Robert Britton Lyons) new record called “Matchbox,” he tries to steal the spotlight by making his piano part the center. Carl Perkins is starved for another hit. After his song “Blue Suede Shoes” was performed by Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show the number one question he was asked was “Hey, are you covering Elvis now?”
Phillips is about to offer Johnny Cash (David Elkins) a three year contract extension. What Phillips does not know is Cash has accepted an offer from Columbia Records.
Elvis Presley (Cody Slaughter) returns to Sun Records after a year of being in Hollywood with his girl friend Dyanne (Kelly Lamont). What we come to find out is Elvis is not happy and the hope is Sam Phillips will let RCA buy up Sun Records, so he can come to NYC and work with Elvis again. As we “never give it all away” at MTG, you have to see the show to find out what happens.
Performance-wise, everyone is top notch. Martin Kaye’s Jerry Lee Lewis encompasses his character perfectly and his piano skills are fantastic. Kaye is actually the standout of the four guys but that is because he is written as the showiest character.
David Elkins as Johnny Cash plays a sincere shy man with a strong religious belief and huge musical talent.
Cody Slaughter as Elvis Presley creates a perfect characterization without it being too cartoony, and he has all of the signature Elvis moves as well.
Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins is brooding and bitter. You’d be bitter too if you got into a car accident and had your song become a hit on The Ed Sullivan Show with another singer too, especially if that singer was Elvis Presley.
Vince Nappo as Sam Phillips shows all of the drive that Phillips had as a producer. Watching his performance you understand why Sam Phillips was inducted into the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame.
Dyanne (Kelly Lamont) has the most thankless role in the show. While she sings her two songs “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking” very well, you have to wonder why the character is in the show to begin with. This is not to say that Lamont isn’t talented, because she most definitely is, but the character is so poorly drawn that Lamont regardless of talent is swallowed by everyone else on stage.
The song list reads like a jukebox from the 1950’s Classics like “ I Walk The Line,” “Hound Dog,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and of course “Blue Suede Shoes” are just a few of the songs that the four guys perform with all of the energy and vocal prowess of the originals. A few favorites for me were Elkins’s rendition of “Folsom Prison Blues” and Slaughter’s version of Elvis’s first hit “That’s All Right.”
Signature Theatre’s Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer has staged the show at a good pace and gets spot on characterizations out of his performers.
Derek Mclane has adapted his set for touring purposes without losing any of the elements that made his Broadway set so good. Jane Greenwood’s costumes reflect the period very nicely and for those of you that remember the original clothes, will definitely spark some memories for you.
Million Dollar Quartet is one of those shows that is known as a crowd pleaser. It isn’t deep and does not have a huge message. What it does not have in depth it makes up for in energy, talent and great music. This is the perfect show to ring in your new year with so, “three to get ready and go cat go” to the Rock ‘n’ Roll love letter called Million Dollar Quartet.
Running Time: One Hour and 45 minutes with no intermission
Million Dollar Quartet plays through January 6, 2013 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater – 2700 F St NW, in Washington, DC. Purchase tickets online, by phone at (202) 467-4600, or at The Kennedy Center box office.