Posted October 14, 2011 by whopperjaw in Play/Drama/Performance

Big on Sound, Short on Story: Million Dollar Quartet

Million Dollar QuartetAfter a successful run on Broadway, Million Dollar Quartet launched its U.S. tour this week in Cleveland, Ohio. We caught last night’s performance at the Palace Theatre and while entertained, we weren’t overwhelmed. The songs are terrific and the main cast — Derek Keeling as Johnny Cash, Cody Slaughter as Elvis Presley, Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis, Lee Ferris as Carl Perkins – is solid, if only because of their ability to sing and play so well (while sounding like their respective characters).

But even though it’s based on a legendary meeting of the musical minds that really occurred on December 4, 1956, there’s just not enough of a story here. As the play commences, Perkins is attempting to record some tunes in Sun Studios with new label mate Jerry Lee Lewis. The two don’t hit it off particularly well – Lewis is too much of a jokester — but Phillips tells Perkins that his career needs a lift so he’d better suck it up and give it his best shot. While those two are going at it, Presley, a household name by now thanks in part to his rendition of Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes,” stops by with his girlfriend Dyanne (Kelly Lamont, who looks and sounds the part but whose stilted Mad Men-esque portrayal made her the weakest link in the cast), who also fancies herself a singer.

To top things off, Cash makes an appearance, and the crew end up jamming on old gospel tunes and their respective hit songs, all to the delight of Phillips who lets the tape machine run so that he’ll capture the magical moment.

The actors do a credible job of depicting the rivalry/camaraderie that must have existed among the four stars, and their renditions of the tunes are spot-on. But the play tries too hard to draw some drama out of the day’s events. Still smarting from losing Presley to RCA/Victor, Phillips hopes to sign Cash to a three-year deal and even has the paperwork all drawn up. Cash, however, has come by to tell Phillips that he’s going to Columbia. There’s a bit of tension in this revelation, but it’s certainly not enough to drive the play and story stalls out mid-way through (and it’s only a 90-minute show).

It’s certainly worth sticking around for the finale, however. It’s a rousing musical number that finds the foursome donning sparkling jackets and singing “Riders in the Sky,” “See You Later Alligator” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”


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