Arts Club Theatre Company
Million Dollar Quartet book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Inspired by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins

Dates and Venue May 11 – July 9, 2017, Mon – Thurs 7.30pm, Fri & Sat 8pm, (matinees on Wed at 1.30pm, and Sat at 2pm) | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Director Bill Millerd Musical Director Zachary Stevenson Musical Staging Valerie Easton Set Design Ted Roberts Costume Design Barbara Clayden Lighting Design Gerald King Sound Design Bradley Danyluk Stage Manager Caryn Fehr

Reviewer John Jane

Million Dollar Quartet is Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux’s retelling of an extemporaneous jam session that turned out to be a seminal moment in the history of rock ‘n’ roll. The session took place on December 4, 1956, at the Sun Record Studios in Memphis and involved Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and most likely Marilyn Evans, a Las Vegas performer who was Presley’s girlfriend at the time. The title, which would seem to undervalue the artists’ worth by at least a factor of ten, comes by way of a report in the local media the following day.

Escott and Mutrux (thankfully) don’t let veracity get in the way of a darn good ‘juke box’ musical. Most of the tracks laid down in Sam Phillips’ studio that day were gospel songs that the artists (all southerners) leant in their youth rather than rock ’n’ roll hits. The co-creators also took liberties with authenticity by implying that Sun Records was in imminent danger of dissolution. In fact, Conway Twitty and Roy Orbison both recorded there a few years later.

Despite the trifling lack of adherence to facts, there is a lot to like about this show. Not least are the individual performances by a musically talented cast. The congenial Graham Coffeng in the role of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips narrates the storyline in close to ‘real-time,’ with amusing asides and incidental rock ‘n’ roll trivia dispersed along the way.

All four of the main performers deliver their take on their respective legends with praiseworthy panache. Steven Greenfield pulls off the appropriate brash cockiness of Jerry Lee – the foursome’s lone survivor now in his eighties. Jonas Shandel metes out a pretty accurate impersonation of Johnny Cash right down to the unique way he holds the guitar.

Kale Penny might have the easiest job in the role of Carl Perkins. Known mainly as a virtuoso rockabilly guitarist and songwriter, even music aficionados know little about his personality. Penny portrays him with a sarcastic streak that fits with the show’s storyline. Erik Fraser Gow while performing well musically doesn’t quite capture Elvis’s natural charisma and the Pompadour toupee he wears looked decidedly fake.

Lauren Jackson as the fifth voice on this celebrated recording more than holds her own against her male cast mates. Her interpretation of “Fever” was (for me) a first act highlight. Musical Director Zachary Stevenson, who has portraying the great Buddy Holly on his resume, shows he has genuine passion for the music.

Musical theatre purists might cynically dismiss ‘juke box’ musicals as a shortcut to putting warm bums in cold seats. What Million Dollar Quartet does offer is solid entertainment, and perhaps some, could even indulge in a trip down Memory Lane. Judging by the exuberance shown by the opening night audience, this show provided that.

© 2017 John Jane