Another Broadway musical featuring songs made famous way before the playwrights ever dreamed up a scenario. “ Million Dollar Quartet,” created by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott, recreate a moment in rock ‘n roll history in 1956 when four legends got together for the last time in an impromptu jam session. Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis are invited to their “birthplace”: Sun Records where owner Sam Phillips (James Moye) plans on surprising Cash with a new three year contract. When a newspaper man finds out about the gathering, he excitedly writes: “This quartet could sell a million!” Thus the title: Million Dollar Quartet.
Eddie Clendening is Presley, Lance Guest, Cash, Levi Kreis, Lewis and Robert Britton Lyons, Perkins. Kreis also arranged some of the music. Each has an uncanny ability to mimic their characters’ voices and movements, but they’re also talented musicians in their own right.
Kreis, as Jerry Lee, really knows how to tinkle those ivories, although tinkle is way too tame a verb for what Kreis does on that keyboard.
Lyons, likewise, plays a mean guitar emulating rockabilly legend, Carl Perkins.
From the moment the curtain rises on the Sun Records studio, we’re transported back to the ‘50s with such musical memorabilia as “ Blue Suede Shoes,” actually covered, we learn, by Elvis following Perkins’ original recording; “ Who Do You Love,” “ Folsom Prison Blues,” and “ Great Balls of Fire.” Most of the numbers are condensed to keep the show moving and to feature a variety of styles from rock to gospel to blues.
The story itself transcends time, moving effortlessly back and forth from each singer’s career break with Phillips to this very special reunion in ’56. It all takes place at Sun with Phillips recording facility in the background behind a glass partition where several old tape machines are prominently displayed. The cast performs on vintage instruments, as well, singing into what appear to be vintage microphones, adding to the production’s authenticity.
Although “ Million Dollar Quartet” is basically a showcase for these four impersonators, there is a bit of dramatic conflict as Phillips learns that nurturing talent, as one nurtures a child, doesn’t necessarily mean the talent or child won’t eventually leave the nest.
“ Million Dollar Quartet” is also a love story: the story of a man’s love for his child. In this case a record company from which sprang the roots of rock ‘n roll.
The ending, well it’s a surprise. You wouldn’t appreciate it if I gave it away. Suffice it to say you won’t be disappointed. This quartet rocks, and so will you!
Million Dollar Quartet
208 W. 41st St.
New York, NY 10036-7203
Published on Dec 31, 1969