BWW Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at New Theatre Restaurant
Imagine transitional rock superstars Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis hanging out together for an impromptu recording session early in their musical careers. This is the unlikely, but mostly true tale told by the new production of the 2010 Broadway musical "Million Dollar Quartet" now opened at the New Theatre Restaurant in Overland Park. This is one entertaining evening.
The date and scene were December 4, 1956 at a former auto parts store in Memphis Tennessee lately transformed into Sam Phillips ' legendary one- horse record studio. Sam Phillips may have headed only a tiny music operation, but he did possess a prodigious eye for talent and an uncanny ability to connect new styles of music to young listeners.
Sam Phillips (Craig Benton) spins his own tale for the audience. On this particular day in late 1956, Carl Perkins (James Barry), his brother Jay (Eric Anthony), their drummer Fluke (David Sonneborn) have booked the studio in an effort to recover the stroke of musical lightning that had scored them their previous huge hit "Blue Suede Shoes" written by Perkins the previous year. Phillips suggests they include budding genius piano man Jerry Lee Lewis (Dominique Scott) to change up Perkins' rockabilly sound. Lewis is obnoxious, but the boy sure can pound a keyboard into submission.
Phillips has scheduled the session so that another of his discoveries, a young Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau), will show up at the studio. Cash's contract is about to run out and Phillips has a three year extension offer in his pocket. Phillips suspects other record labels have been sniffing around Johnny Cash and he plans to pressure the "Man in Black" into signing the extension in front of his friend Perkins.
Phillips needs his stars. He has already been forced to sell the contract of one Elvis Presley (Skye Scott) to RCA Records in order to keep the Sun record label in business. Elvis happens to be in town for the purpose of introducing his "lady du jour," a girl singer named Dyanne (Ashley Pankow), to his Momma. In truth, Dyanne was a nineteen-year-old Las Vegas showgirl named Marilyn Evans, but indeed they were in Memphis to meet Momma Presley.
Presley stops by the record studio to say "Hey" to Phillips and revisit his musical home. The two get sucked into the musical vortex of the jam session. Phillips has the presence of mind to record the whole thing. The recording is eventually released as an album in 1990, thirteen years after Presley's death in 1977 and some thirty-five years after it was recorded.
Audiences should get ready for some fun. All of these actors are exceptional musicians. James Barry has previously played Carl Perkins on a two-year national tour. Scott Moreau has been the "Man in Black" at Harrah's in Las Vegas and two other nationally known venues. (I was fortunate enough to have met the real Johnny Cash in his prime. Moreau resembles Cash on stage and has a better vocal instrument.) Dominique Scott has mirrored Jerry Lee Lewis four times previously. In addition to being an incredible pianist, he is an unbelievable contortionist while playing the piano. And Skye Scott as Elvis has toured the nation in the Elvis role and also toured as one of the Four Seasons in "Jersey Boys."
These guys together are worth more than a "Million Dollars," but this New Theater Production gives you value added in the person of Ashley Pankow as Dyanne. She heats up the place with a memorable rendition of "Fever." Craig Benton as Sam Phillips doesn't sing here, but holds the whole narrative together with his excellent Phillips portrayal. Benton is a familiar local actor, but you could swear you have seen him on a larger screen somewhere.
Audiences will enjoy this slick professional production. The set is excellent, the voices are fine, and the direction by Joe R. Fox III is outstanding. These folks have put the rock back in the distant dawn of Rock N Roll.
"Million Dollar Quartet" continues at New Theatre Restaurant through September 24. Tickets are available at www.newthreatre.com or by telephone at 913-649- (7469).
Photo courtesy of New Theatre Restaurant and Roy Inman