'Million Dollar Quartet' brings rock icons to life
A review of "Million Dollar Quartet," the vivacious Broadway musical based on a jam session between Elvis and other early rock idols. The show, developed at Village Theatre, now returns to the area for a Paramount Theatre run.
Seattle Times theater critic
"Million Dollar Quartet"Through Sunday at Paramount Theatre, 701 Pine St., Seattle; $25-$85 (206-784-4849 or www.stgpresents.org).
Theater Review |
"Million Dollar Quartet," one of the best jukebox musicals to reach Broadway in recent years, is back and firing up that old-time rock 'n' roll at the Paramount Theatre.
This paean to four seminal pop musicians (Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins), and the man who discovered and nurtured their talent (Sun Records head Sam Phillips) was developed at Issaquah's Village Theatre. It returned there for a hit mainstage run in 2007, and later went on to successful runs in Chicago, New York and London before the national tour that's landed at the Paramount through Sunday.
Inspired by an actual 1956 gathering at Sun Records studio in Memphis, which brought Phillips' rising-with-a-bullet proteges together for their first and only jam session, "Million Dollar Quartet" is stuffed with rousing tunes from the golden oldies vault — such as Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes," Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues," Elvis' "Hound Dog" and Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire."
The cast of charged-up actor-musicians accompany themselves with skill and vivacity on piano and guitars, supplemented by drums and stand-up bass. And they each capture the look, vocal style and showmanship of their pop-idol characters.
Derek Keeling is an uncanny ringer for Cash, perfectly imitating his fathoms-deep basso singing and his man-in-black demeanor. Cody Slaughter has the sultry Elvis gaze and vocals down, as well as the singer's swivel-hipped, spaghetti-legged moves. Lee Ferris as the scrappy, lesser-known Perkins, and Martin Kaye as the Harpo-hatched, loose-lipped Lewis are spot-on too. (Also on hand is the fictional Dyanne, a torch-singer played by Kelly Lamont, inspired by a onetime girlfriend Elvis brought to the Sun session.)
What makes "Million Dollar Quartet" more than a tribute concert is the way it uses the perspective and narration of Sam Phillips (the very engaging Christopher Ryan Grant) to trace the roots of rock 'n' roll.
Through flashbacks in the Colin Escott-Floyd Mutrux script, woven organically into director Eric Schaeffer's staging, we see what Phillips saw in these four gifted but raw and naive country boys he took on, and molded into hitmakers.
And we see how their talent, and the forces of African-American blues and white gospel, contributed to the earthy, infectious rockabilly spirit of early rock 'n' roll Phillips captured on influential recordings that still delight.
Phillips' own dilemma in the show — whether to go work for a big ol' record company, or stick with his feisty independent operation — is more than a plot device. It's the classic conflict theme in many an American success fable, of homegrown autonomy/integrity vs. sell-out corporate commercialism.
That conflict is not resolved here, nor can it be. Instead "Million Dollar Quartet" leaves you with a crowd-pleasing encore that gets the audience up, cheering and singing along on tunes now forever embedded in the American songbook.
Note: A recording of the real Sun jam has been remastered and is available, including some of the tunes in the show plus many others.
Misha Berson: email@example.com