BWW Reviews: Jam Session with Broadway Across America's MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
On one fateful winter evening, a few weeks before Christmas in 1956, producer Sam Phillips managed to get all of his stars in one room. The recording session of Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis soon turned into an impromptu jam session when Johnny Cash and breakout star Elvis Presley showed up too. This was to be the first and the last time all four men were in the same room together and goes down in history as one of the greatest spontaneous rock and roll collaborations of all time. Ever since that fateful day, despite it being a one time only occurrence, the four have been referred to as the Million Dollar Quartet.
Million Dollar Quartet, currently at the Colonial Theatre (open again for the first time in two years), tells the story of that night. Staged as a memory play, with Sam Phillips narrating, addressing the audience directly, it outlines the evening from start to finish, focusing not only on the music, but on the different characters' involvements with Sun Records and how their rising (or risen) stars affects that. Although there is somewhat of a story, this production is all about the music. At worst, it is a concert from four fairly talented impersonators. At best, it is a glimpse into what this magical evening must have been like, and a journey back to the birth of rock and roll.
The production itself is gorgeous. The set is the music studio, crowded with instruments, and overlooked by a beautiful, fully functioning recording room through the glass. The world extends past the room itself, with workings doors, a glimpse onto the chilly street outside, and time appropriate billboards and graffiti extending to the ceiling and into the wings. Scenic designer Derek McLane created a perfect combination of realism within the studio and an artistic, abstract 1950s world around it. The lighting design, by Howell Binkley, straddled this line as well, providing warm and appropriate lighting for the moments of realism, and amping it up with flashing colors of blues and reds during the large musical numbers.
Where my mind was completely blown was in the casting. I have no idea how someone goes about casting a show like this where not only do the actors need to be talented vocalists, but also expertly play an instrument, and then also look and sound like these iconic musicians. Scott Moreau, who played Johnny Cash, had such a convincing crooning voice that when he began his first song, people cheered. His bass notes were so incredibly warm and all consuming that I was overwhelmed, not only by his similarity to Cash, but by the vastness of his range and abilities. John Countryman played Jerry Lee Lewis, which I imagine must be a remarkably challenging role, as he never stopped playing the piano, and I never wanted him to. I was surprised smoke didn't rise from the keys; he played so quickly and effortlessly. James Barry as Carl Perkins tore up the guitar and provided the sassiest commentary throughout the production, and Tyler Hunter as Elvis Presley was so spot on in his movement that I could have sworn it was the king himself. The four stepped up to the plate and performed the songs accurately and impressively both individually and together. Honestly, I was never happier than when the four sang in harmony, particularly in "Down by the Riverside". Not to be missed.
These four are joined by Vince Nappo as Sam Phillips, who seamlessly transitioned from storyteller to the glue holding the foursome together, Kelly Lamont as Dyanne, who popped in with a killer rendition of "I Hear You Knocking", and Corey Kaiser on bass (holy cow, can that man play!) and Patrick Morrow on drums. This is a rockstar cast that creates some rockstar music together. It's the story of a jam session, but really it's just a big, fun jam session for the actors on stage.