BWW Reviews: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET Comes To Music City
When you enter Andrew Jackson Hall at Tennessee Performing Arts Center this week, you'll be greeted with a backdrop with these words: "On December 4, 1956, one man brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Elvis Presley together to play for the first and only time. His name was Sam Phillip...The place was Sun Records... That night they made rock 'n' roll history." This sets the mood for the night right away. You can't help but know you're about to see something special. Million Dollar Quartet has come to Nashville. Fluctuating somewhere between a memoir, and musical, and a rock concert, Million Dollart Quartet is set in another of Tennessee's famed cities, Memphis.
Not only did the musicians depicted in the show make an undeniable impact on the music that comes out of Nashville and music in general, Chuck Mead, the shows musical director, has strong ties to Nashville (including co-founding the country group BR549). Colin Escott, who co-wrote the book with Floyd Mutrux, is also a Nashvillian, bringing even more of a connection to Music City.
There are special moments in time that we like to capture. Most often, they're personal and touching and important only to the people involved. It's rare to find a moment that I'm sure meant something to the men present, but meant so much more to those who would come behind them. Set completely in one room of Sun Records in Memphis, the set, designed by Derek McLane, is simple and never changes. This doesn't stop it from being a major player in the show itself. Seeing the simple design of the recording studio sets the stage for the "small time" Sun Records and helps the audience understand why the members of the Million Dollar Quartet make the decisions they make in regards to their careers.
The energy in Andrew Jackson Hall was off the charts, due mostly to the fantastic performances from the actors. I typically like to pull out a few memorable performances from a show and touch on those, but with Million Dollar Quartet that is impossible. Each actor on the stage gave a fantastic performance and each gave their personal touch to the iconic musicians while paying tribute to them at the same time. Scott Moreau's portrayal of Johnny Cash was spectacular. It was almost a little scary how much he sounded like the Man in Black. John Countryman gave Jerry Lee Lewis all the energy and enthusiasm that Lewis himself had when performing. Cody Ray Slaughter took on Elvis Presley, making Elvis' charm and slight awkwardness with his fame shine through. James Barry's Carl Perkins embodies so much of who Perkins was, including his hurt and anger as some of the bad breaks he'd gotten in the business, as well as his willingness to let a lot of things pass over in the name of friendship.
Sam Phillips, the genius behind all four of these great artists, and the owner of Sun Records in Memphis when all four got their start, becomes the audience guide for the evening. Played by Vince Nappo, he breaks the "fourth wall" many times throughout the night to converse with the audience. This is where it becomes a memoir. A Sam Phillips memoir...and it works spectacularly. Nappo's Phillips takes the audience through his discovery of each artist (or in some cases, the artist's discovery of him) and how he helped to mold them into the artist that we all know and love. When he's not communicating with the audience, Nappo makes Sam Phillips much like the father of this eclectic group of young men. He also shows his own humanity by showing his hurt and sadness as some of his artists chose to leave Sun Records, and in turn, leave him. While all the actors do a fantastic job at brining humanity to their characters, Nappo's Phillips may be the most "human" character of the entire show.
Very quietly and in the background were Corey Kaiser and Patrick Morrow, who played bass and drums respectively as the other members of Carl Perkins' band Jay Perkins and Fluke. While they had almost no lines and very little interaction with the rest of the cast outside their playing, I love that the show mad it a point to show that these men were playing people who were actually present on that famed day. I must also give a shout out to Kelly Lamont, who played Dyanne, Elvis's current love interest at the time of the Sun Records meeting. She was a beautiful and feminine touch to a very masculine cast. And, boy can that girl sing. The few times she stepped up to the microphone to toss her vocals into the mix, Lamont blew the audience away.
At one of the most quiet and reverent moments near the end of the show, the audience is also blessed to hear a bit of a recording from that actual day at Sun Records. It becomes a beautiful way to round out the show before it turns into the rock concert that Million Dollar Quartet wants to be. The last 15 or so minutes of the show, the audience is blessed to hear some more famous tunes from the Million Dollar Quartet as they play to the audience, and not to each other. The audience became electric during this time, loving the music, the energy and the songs they feel so much connection to.
You can catch Million Dollar Quartet at Tennessee Performing Arts Center through Sunday, May 11th. If you love a good musical, this is a fantastic show. If you love good music, this is a fantastic show. And if love music history, and want a chance to peek into the legends that shaped rock 'n' roll and all music, then get yourself to TPAC this week. You can purchase tickets on their website or by calling the box office at 615-782-4040.