On December 4, 1956, two young musicians dropped in on a recording session at Sun Record Studio in Memphis, for what turned into an iconic night of jamming and jawing that changed the course of rock and roll. If you haven’t heard of it, you’ve certainly heard of the men: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley. Fortunately for posterity, a recording was made and a few snapshots of their jam session were taken, but almost nothing remains of what they talked about.
That iconic session is recreated in Million Dollar Quartet. It is, in the end, a feel-good show and a light, fun evening. The songs from these four greats still have power and the cast which Infinity Theatre has assembled knows how to deliver them. Highlights for mer were ‘A Brown Eyed Man’, ‘Ain’t Gonna Study War No More’ and an especially fine rendition ‘Peace in the Valley’ done acapella.
The pre-Fab Four gentlemen are solidly portrayed, but it’s by no means a Johnny-Carl-Jerry Lee-and-Elvis impersonator show. Rather it’s an homage of sorts. James Brock as Carl Perkins sounds like the man and plays a mean guitar; Austin Wayne Price as Johnny Cash is by far the best actor of the four, though Cash’s low register is a stretch for the singer’s voice; Travis Artz has Elvis’ hip swings down pat, though in all honesty he sounded less like Elvis than you would expect.
Million Dollar Quartet
closes August 3, 2016
Details and tickets
Closest to the mark was JP Coletta as Jerry Lee Lewis. Not only can he play the piano like a firecracker on steroids, Coletta seemed to really inhabit the crazed and genius lunacy that was the young Lewis and gave the thin lines of the book some of the evening’s best laughs. As Sam Phillips, Brit Herring can certainly act but had the unenviable job of mostly having exposition lines, and as Dyanne, Elvis’ date for the night, the very lovely Bella Muller gave a breathy rendition of “Fever” but otherwise had little else to do but look stylish.
Infinity goes for simple visuals – the set, a soundstage mockup and costumes are appropriate, making it clear this is a night for the musicians.
Million Dollar Quartet ran for over 400 performances on Broadway, and of this writing, productions of it are active all over the globe. Infinity’s smaller production, in the intimate CTA Complex Theatre, adds a nice close-up dimension to the show. Overall, it reminded me of a decent theme park retrospective: good music that you already know the words to, earnest and young performers with energy and talent up on the stage, but no dramatic frisson to bother you.
It’s a bit of a pity about that – much of this early rock and roll was once so controversial- some of it was banned on radio stations and vilified by preachers, parents and politicians alike. That sharp edge is lost here but the beats and the lyrics remain to remind us that Elvis and the boys sure had some talent long ago.
Million Dollar Quartet . Book By Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrix . Original Concept and Direction by Floyd Mutrix (inspired by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins) . Directed by: Tommy Iafrate and Alan Ostroff . Ensemble: Travis Artz, James Brock, JP Coletta, Brit Herring, Bella Muller and Austin Wayne Price with Bob Abbott and Chris Karabelas . Music Director: Amy Jones . Costumes: Kristina Martin . Scenic Design: Diana Chun . Lighting Design: Jimmy Lawlor . Sound Design: Wews Shippee . Technical Director: Josh Debernardi . Stage Manager: Kristin Loughry . Produced by Infinity Theatre . Reviewed by Jill Kyle-Keith.