BWW Reviews: A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On in MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
If the Majestic Theatre is a-rockin', you better come a-knockin'! MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET just kicked off an 8-performance in San Antonio.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is a musical inspired by a once-in-a-lifetime event: legendary performers Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash gathered for an impromptu recording session at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee - the label headed by Sam Phillips (Vince Nappo) that launched the four men into music stardom.
While this musical is the very definition of a "jukebox musical," (a musical that uses previously released popular songs for its score, such as MAMMA MIA!, AMERICAN IDIOT, and JERSEY BOYS), I can set that aside in light of the pure fun this musical offers the audience. The plot, while based on true events, feels a bit contrived and serves only to connect the various performances. But again, I readily set that aside the moment Jerry Lee Lewis (portrayed by Ben Goddard) sat down at the piano and slammed on that ebony and ivory so wonderfully and energetically that if you didn't know better, you would think it was Mr. Lewis himself performing on stage - right down to his crazy antics and hair. He also provides ample comic relief, almost to the point of exhaustion.
Before attending this show, I had never heard of Carl Perkins. I suspect I'm not the only one. However, Mr. Perkins fell victim to the rare occasion that someone's cover of his own song overshadowed his original version. When Elvis Presley performed "Blue Suede Shoes" on The Ed Sullivan Show, Carl Perkins lost his claim to his song. Despite this, Perkins had a handful of hits that I found I knew without knowing his name, and James Barry's portrayal and rockabilly electric guitar made me take note of Perkins. In fact, I'm exploring his catalogue on Spotify this morning as I write!
When David Elkins walks on stage, there's no question who he's depicting: The Man In Black himself, Johnny Cash. Elkins' baritone does Cash proud, as does his stately, controlled performance. I'm a bit of a closet Johnny Cash fan, and I found myself repeatedly holding my breath when he picked up his guitar to see what song he'd start picking. Appropriately for San Antonio, his first performance is "Folsom Prison Blues." As I had hoped and expected, "but that train kept a-rollin' on down to San Antone," received a huge cheer from the audience. And if his "Hello. I'm Johnny Cash." doesn't give you goosebumps, I don't know what will.
The last but certainly not least member of this epic quartet is the King of Rock and Roll himself: Elvis Presley. The actor behind Elvis, Cody Slaughter, is a legitimate Elvis tribute artist (named the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist of 2011), and his characterization seems spot-on and never quavers from the moment he enters to the moment he thanks the audience (thanks them very much), with plenty of signature hip shakin' and floppy knees. My one criticism, and it is not of Slaughter's performance, is that I spent the entire show waiting for him to launch into a BIG Elvis hit: "Jailhouse Rock," "All Shook Up," "Don't Be Cruel," or "Heartbreak Hotel." I will concede that I have no idea when any of those songs were released so perhaps they weren't even recorded in 1956 when this took place. It left me feeling a bit like Elvis was almost...wasted in this musical. You have Elvis, use him! The post-curtain call on-your-feet jam session almost makes up for a perceived missed opportunity, though.