Million Dollar Quartet Review - The Greatest Band That Never Was


Certain themes and events lend themselves more readily to the musical form:  The struggles of Broadway performers in A Chorus Line, for example, or Don Quixote’s exploits expressed as a play within a play in The Man of LaMancha.

So a private jam session from 1956, held at the tiny incubator of musical talent known as Sun Records and featuring a cast of four iconic rock and rollers seems absolutely tailor-made for the stage.  Premiering at the Seaside Music Theater in Florida in 2006, Million Dollar Quartet had a brief run at the Goodman Theatre before transferring to the Apollo Theater where it has been playing to appreciative audiences since 2008.  This jukebox musical hit has become something of a rockabilly franchise, providing excellent gigs for multi-talented performers in New York, London, and Chicago.

Lipinsky, Lamont, Bowling, Lago, and Sullivan

The writers – Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux – have crafted a tight show which honors that impromptu assemblage of rock personalities, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley.  To this incredible gathering the writers condense tangential plot elements– Cash’s new contract with Columbia, RCA’s desire to purchase Sun Records -- in order to give the show a dramatic arc, a sense of tension.  It only partially works, but no matter; the songs and personalities and talents are the thing.

Bowling, Lago, and Sullivan as Perkins, Presley, and Cash

And this show has plenty to go around.  Gabe Bowling (Perkins), Sean Sullivan (Cash), Lance Lipinsky (Lewis), and Shaun Whitley (Presley) are outstanding performers and musicians.  They are completely convincing as the recording stars, and get the house shaking with such classic tunes as “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and “Who Do You Love?”  Lipinsky manages to embody the manic energy AND the fierce, full-body piano attacks of Jerry Lee Lewis.  His hands, elbows, and feet hit the keys with the force of a fire-and-brimstone sermon.  At the other end of the spectrum is the quiet, introspective Johnny Cash, played with nuance by Sullivan.  With his strong brow and signature stance -- guitar body slung high at his armpit -- the Man in Black stalks around the perimeter of this production like a caged animal.  Bowling and Whitley capture the physical mannerisms of Perkins and Presley as well as the tension underlying their relationship.  If you didn’t know that Perkins wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” and that Presley recorded a cover of it (not vice versa), you learn it here.

Kelly Lamont (Dyanne), Gabe Bowling (Perkins), David Lago (Presley) and Sean Sullivan (Cash)

The linchpin of the show is Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, played with car -salesman zeal by Tim Decker.  He is the man who gave these musicians a start in the business and helped shape their voices, and it is his Sun Studio where he mediates the egos of the quartet that join forces for one evening.

Scenic Designer Adam Koch evokes this auto-parts-store-turned-sound-studio nicely, with frosted windows on the garage door, a wood-paneled sound booth with shelves of LPs and tapes, and amplifiers sitting on risers.

Unlike the humble beginnings of its stars, this is a glossy, slick production which belies its inspiration.  Indeed, the original recordings made of this gathering were far from high fidelity.  Some 46 tracks of abbreviated songs were juxtaposed with snippets of conversation, a simple archival recording of musical artists having fun reminiscing and riffing off each other’s work.

Entire cast

In this musical’s version of events, aside from a couple Lewis piano riffs that irk Perkins – the colorful antagonism between the two musicians is a highlight of the show – there are no false starts or glitches.  None of the “working on a song, hour upon hour,” as Phillips fondly describes the recording process, is evident here. 

Instead the audience is given 1-hour-and-45 minutes of drama and song, and the co-directors, Floyd Mutrux and Eric Schaeffer, keep the pace lively and the joint rockin’ throughout.  Spot lit moments of dialogue break up the impressive list of 21 tunes, sometimes even in the middle of a song, as a flashback freezes the jam session.  A sole female performer, a girlfriend of Elvis played by Kelly Lamont, provides strong pipes and sensuality on “Fever” and “I Hear You Knockin,’’ and Billy Shaffer and Chuck Zayas round out the band on drums and bass.

Throughout, several respectable themes are hinted at in the show:  Allegiances, remaining truthful to one’s roots, the morality of rock and roll.  But like a questionable backing vocal track on a song, the creators seemed to have turned the volume down on such ruminations and cranked it up on the music.  Perhaps Phillips, the “Father of rock and roll” who launched many careers including B.B King and Roy Orbison, would sell it the same way.   “Rock and roll ain’t a fad,” his character proclaims in Million Dollar Quartet, “It’s a damn revolution.”





PR Contact: Cathy Taylor/Schoenly Hixson                         FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

       Cathy Taylor Public Relations, Inc          June 24, 2011


       [email protected]           Electronic photos and B-roll available


Million Dollar Quartet

now in its third year in Chicago

to add performances through December 31, 2011

at the Apollo Theater

CHICAGO, ILMillion Dollar Quartet, now in its third year, announces a new block of tickets on sale for performances through December 31, 2011.  The Tony-nominated musical inspired by the famed 1956 recording session that brought together legendary rock ‘n’ roll icons Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley, celebrates its long run in Chicago, a multiple Tony-nominated New York run and a long-running London production. 

The Chicago production continues to break box office records at the Apollo Theater, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave.,Chicago.  The new block of tickets from September 28-December 31, 2011 goes on sale Friday, June 24 at 10amat the Apollo box office, phone (773) 935-6100, and online through Ticketmaster,  For more information, visit

Million Dollar Quartet features Chicago musician and actor Gabe Bowling (Carl Perkins), accomplished musician/performer Lance Lipinsky (Jerry Lee Lewis), Jeff Award nominee Sean Sullivan (Johnny Cash), Chicago actor and musician Shaun Whitley (Elvis Presley), Tim Decker (“Father of Rock ’n’ Roll” Sam Phillips), Kelly Lamont (Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne), Billy Shaffer (Fluke/Drummer) and Chuck Zayas (Jay Perkins/Bass).

Producer Gigi Pritzker comments, “Million Dollar Quartet is a hit in Chicago, New York and London, and it be embarking on a national tour in the fall.  It is truly an international phenomenon, one that had its early roots in Chicago.  We are grateful to our Chicago audiences for embracing the show and are thrilled to be extended the show through the end of the year.  We hope to keep rocking here for a long time.” 


Gabe Bowling (Carl Perkins) has been an understudy for Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley during the Chicago run of Million Dollar Quartet.  A Wisconsin native, he has toured nationally as a musician and is currently the lead guitarist for the rock band Fat J and The Pinners, and has his own side project, Gabe vs. The Sad Kids. 

Lance Lipinsky (Jerry Lee Lewis), a Texas native, grew up studying his dad’s record collection of Elvis, Roy Orbison, and his hero, Jerry Lee Lewis.  These influences never left him and now, at age 24, he combines these styles in his own original music similar to early Rock & Roll, classic Country and even a touch of 1960’s pop.  His energetic live shows have led him all over the world, even to making his national television debut at the original Ryman Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, TN.   Visit for updates on his first album recording, which with use all analog equipment to emulate the timeless 1960’s sound.

Sean Sullivan (Johnny Cash) was nominated for a Jeff Award for Best Principle Role for Shattered Globe’sRequiem for a Heavyweight.  Originally from Ohio, he has been working in Chicago since 2002, where he has appeared at TimeLine in Fiorello! and The Children’s Hour; Lifeline Theatre in The Island of Dr Moreau; and BackStage Theatre Co., where he is an ensemble member and designer.

Shaun Whitley (Elvis Presley) is a multi-instrumentalist, actor, composer, and music director.  He was last on stage playing upright bass and mandolin in Cotton Patch Gospel with Provision Theater. Other Chicago credits include work with Drury Lane Theater – Oakbrook, Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Drury Lane Theater – Water Tower Place, TUTA, BlindFaith Theatre, and Redmoon Theater. He studied in London at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art where he composed an original score for a production of Twelfth Night and performed the role of Orsino. In Atlanta, he co-created and co-composed an original score for a neo-vaudeville adaptation of the fables of Jean de la Fontaine, Vive La Fontaine!, with the French-speaking theater, Theatre du Reve.

Tim Decker, longtime Chicago actor, stars in the role of Sam Phillips.  He has appeared at Chicago Shakespeare, Goodman, Next, Milwaukee Rep, Touchstone, Shattered Globe, Stage Left, Famous Door, American Theatre Company, and American Blues (where he received a Principal Actor Jeff Award for his work in Toys in the Attic),among others.


Kelly Lamont, playing Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne, is a native of Chicago’s south suburbs.  She previously appeared at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Milwaukee Shakespeare, Wisconsin’s Fireside Theatre and L.A.’s Fullerton Civic Light Opera, among others.  She has a BFA from the University of Illinois.

Billy Shaffer (Fluke, Drummer) lives in the Northwest suburbs of Chicago and has been active in the Chicago blues scenes, playing upwards of 130 nights per year prior to his role in Million Dollar Quartet.  He has played locally with notable Chicago musicians and has toured with Grand Ole Opry artists Billy Walker and Ferlin Husky.

Chuck Zayas (Jay Perkins, Bass player) has been performing on stage for more than 20 years as a bass player, singer, songwriter, band leader, sideman session player and producer.  He has played rockabilly bass in Rocket 88 and is the frontman for his most recent project, The Midnight Ramblers.  He performed with Million Dollar Quartet in the Seaside production and is an original Chicago cast member.


On December 4, 1956, an auspicious twist of fate brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley together. The place was Sun Records’ storefront studio in Memphis.  The man who made it happen was Sam Phillips, the “Father of Rock ’n’ Roll,” who discovered them all. The four legends-to-be united for the only time in their careers for an impromptu recording that has come to be known as one of the greatest rock jam sessions of all time. 

Million Dollar Quartet features a treasure trove of the greatest rock ’n’ roll, gospel, R&B and country hits from these music legends, including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Who Do You Love?,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Riders in the Sky,” “Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line,” and “Hound Dog.”  Million Dollar Quartet captures the infectious spirit, freewheeling excitement and thrilling sounds of a singular moment when four of the music industry’s most extraordinary talents, all in their creative prime, came together for one of the most memorable nights in music history. 

Directed by Eric Schaeffer and Floyd Mutrux, with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd MutruxMillion Dollar Quartet is produced by Relevant TheatricalsJohn Cossette Productions and Northern Lights Inc.

Million Dollar Quartet had its world premiere at Florida’s Seaside Music Theatre, and was subsequently staged at the Village Theatre in Washington, breaking box office records.  In Chicago, the production moved to the Apollo on November 5, 2008, following its sold-out, limited engagement at the Goodman’s Owen Theatre.  The Broadway production garnered three Tony Award nominations, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Levi Kreis; three Drama League Award nominations; and an Outer Critics Circle Award nomination.  Million Dollar Quartet is currently playing in London at the Noel Coward Theatre and will embark on a national tour in the fall.


Million Dollar Quartet tickets are now on sale through December 31, 2011.  Tickets to Million Dollar Quartetat the Apollo Theater are available through the Apollo Theater box office, 2540 N. Lincoln Ave, (773) 935-6100.  Tickets are available online through Ticketmaster, 

Tickets are $25-$77.50. (Standard ticketing fees apply.)  

Rush student tickets for select performances (Wed-Fri and Sun evenings only) are available 2 hours prior to curtain at the box office with valid Student ID. Student rush tickets are subject to availability.

The Apollo performance schedule is as follows: Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:30 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 5:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.  Sunday performances are 3:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.   Beginning June 26 through the summer months, Sunday performances will be at 2:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. 

There will be no performances on Wednesday, August 3.  Performances have been added on Tuesday August 9 and 23, 2011.



Million Dollar Quartet will offer special family discounts on select Sundays. Family nights are currently scheduled for June 26, July 17 and August 14 at 5:00 p.m.

Tickets to Million Dollar Quartet Family Nights are buy one, get one free.  (One child under 17 will be admitted free with each adult ticket purchase.)  The evenings will feature giveaways with special gifts from Million Dollar Quartet.  Check for upcoming Family Nights.

Million Dollar Quartet is a 90-minute, family-friendly production.  Audience members of all ages are invited to laugh, clap—and even dance—during the show. 

For more show information, visit

* * * * * *


Director Eric Schaeffer is the acclaimed co-founder and artistic director of the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA, where his work has been honored with numerous Helen Hayes Awards including Outstanding Direction.  He directedPutting it Together and Glory Days on Broadway, the first national tour of big, The Musical, and the West End debut of The Witches of Eastwick.  He also served as artistic director for the Kennedy Center’s recent Sondheim Celebration.

Floyd Mutrux is also the co-author of the book to Million Dollar Quartet, sharing writing credits with noted Grammy® Award-winning author and music historian Colin Escott. Mutrux has written, directed or produced numerous films, including the classic biopic of early rock ’n’ roll American Hot Wax, Dick Tracy and Mulholland Falls. Escott, the author of numerous books including Good Rockin’ Tonight – Sun Records and the Birth of Rock ’n’ Roll, was awarded a Grammy® for producing The Complete Hank Williams, and was nominated for a Grammy for producing B.B. King – King of the Blues.

Musical Director Chuck Mead, with multiple hit records, has stood at the forefront of the alternative country music explosion as founder and lead singer of BR549, the three-time Grammy® Award nominated country band.

Relevant Theatricals (Producer) is a commercial production company headed by Gigi Pritzker and Ted Rawlins, dedicated to developing new work for the stage.  Current projects include: F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, which premiered at the Guthrie Theatre and is on course to open in London next year; Snapshots, a new musical with book by David Stern and music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz; and a new musical version of Dennis The Menace.  Relevant’s sister company, Odd Lot Entertainment, develops and produces outstanding new film properties.  Current productions include the feature Rabbit Hole,” based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by David Lindsay-Abaire, starring Nicole Kidman and Dianne Wiest, and directed by John Cameron Mitchell.  Relevant Theatricals is proud to be part of the producing team that developed Million Dollar Quartet. 

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