Tag: Sam Phillips

Review: Million Dollar Quartet (Paramount Theatre)

Kavan Hashemian and Adam Wesley Brown star as Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins in Million Dollar Quartet            
      

  

Million Dollar Quartet
 
Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Paramount Theatre, Aurora, IL (map)
thru Oct 29  |  tix: $36-$64  |  more info
       
Check for half-price tickets   
     

October 7, 2017 | 1 Comment More

Review: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

As quartets go, this one does in fact look and sound like a million bucks.

Jerry Lee on piano with cast, H

Million Dollar Quartet
Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave. (more info)

Reviewed by Catey Sullivan 

“I don’t record singers, I record souls,” proclaims Sun Records’ legendary founder Sam Phillips midway through the unstoppable “Million Dollar Quartet.” From most people, it’s a statement that would sound as cheesy as a pitch from a third-rate used car salesman. Here, it’s a declaration of goose-bump rising authenticity. And when that same honey-over-gravel drawl command “Sing it to me the way you’d sing it to Jesus,” you know what follows is going to be as memorable as the night they tore old Dixie down.

Close to nine months after it opened, Million Dollar Quartet shows no signs of depreciating. Detailing the now-legendary Sun Studios recording session of Dec. 4, 1956, it’s the rare juke box musical that actually benefits from its lack of a plot. The music is iconic, rocketing off the stage as Rob Lyons (Carl Perkins), Lance Guest (Johnny Cash), Levi Kreis (Jerry Lee Lewis) and Eddie Clendening (Elvis Presley) deliver 100 seamless minutes of irresistible tunage. Dec. 4, 1956 might have been a chilly night in Memphis, but inside Phillips (Brian McCaskill) Sun Studios, it was blistering.

Lewis, Carl Perkins, Jay Perkins, Cash, Elvis, V It’s impossible to understate the influence Perkins, Cash, Lewis and Lewis had in shaping rock ‘n roll. Directed by Floyd Matrux and Eric Schaeffer (book by Matrux and Colin Escott), MDQ doesn’t try to explain that influence like some school of rock history lesson. Instead, it celebrates the music, punctuating the explosive set list with telling bits of exposition. Kids who wouldn’t be caught dead buying that “negro music” were sneaking off at night to listen to it, Phillips muses. The million dollar question: “What if I could find a white kid who could light a fire under songs like those Negroes?” He found the epic answer to that “what if” Elvis, among others. And he knew long before many others that rock wasn’t a fad, it was a revolution.

Million Dollar Quartet is set shortly after Elvis Presley’s first movie (“Love Me Tender”) opened. He’s still young and beautiful, worlds away from the bloat and hype of his Vegas years. Like everyone else in the production, Clendening is perfectly cast. His Elvis is mercurial, a reckless lightning bolt just itching to set the world on fire. Rocking out with the woe-erasing “That’s All Right” or providing the Cathedral-worthy anchor vocals to the plaintive hymn “Peace in the Valley,” he’s as charismatic and gifted as you’d expect from an artist simply known as The King.

But even the mighty Elvis is taken aback by Jerry Lee Lewis, the brash, obnoxiously self-assured “crazy Cajun” boywonder. As for Kreis’ interpretation of a boy so fresh off the farm he can entertain himself for hours just flushing the new-fangled indoor toilets, it’s dominates the prodpuction, casting a white-hot aura of inspired, barely contained lunatic genius over the whole endeavor.

Like Lewis, Kreis is a showman of unstoppable energy, whether whipping through six-octaves of feral arpeggios or punting his piano bench into the cheap seats with a single kick that’s as powerful as an angry mule. It’s best to get a seat where you can see Kreis hands and feet at all times – he attacks the keyboards with both. When he launches into “Real Wild Child” or “Whole Lotta Shakin,” better just stand the heck back as it becomes crystal clear why Johnny Cash deemed Lewis “the mother-humpingest piano player I ever did see.”

As for Guest’s laconic Cash, he’s steeped in a subtle aura of souful sorrow, giving “Rock Island Line” and “Sixteen Tons” a mournful weariness and an unshakable sense of loss. He also nails the script’s deadpan humor. (“I been everywhere, man,” Cash shrugs after being asked about his whereabouts.) As a guitarist, Guest is no trifler: At the performance we attended, he snapped his D-string less than four bars in to “Riders in the Sky.” Talk about grace under pressure: It didn’t slow him down so much as a 16th note.

Lyons’ Perkins is the most underwritten of the lot. He primarily serves as a foil to Lewis’ childish provocations (“Somebody get a shovel and scoop that up.”) He also provides some of the meager dramatic tension there is in the production: Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” – a credit that was largely overlooked once Elvis performed the song on national television. You can all but feel Perkins’ frustrated ire roiling off the stage.

As in the real recording session, Elvis’ smoking hot girlfriend shows up to inject a bit of sizzling estrogen into party. As Dyanne, Kelly Lamont has the vocals to match the smoldering personality. Her slinky, sultry “Fever” is appropriately scorching.

When MDQ performed at this year’s Tonys, it was during commercial breaks – television viewers didn’t have a chance to see the ensemble. So if your Tony invite got lost in the mail (as mine does every dang year) and you thus missed seeing the quartet live in New York, do consider seeing them here. As quartets go, this one does in fact look and sound like a million bucks.

“Million Dollar Quartet” continues as an open run at the Apollo Theatre, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave. Tickets are $25 – $64.50 and available online at www.milliondollarquartetlive.com or by calling 773/935-6100.

Rating:  «««½

June 13, 2009 | 3 Comments More