BWW Review: The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis Rocks the House with MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
I've seen MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET several times, and I've always enjoyed the experience, even though it's a heavily fictionalized version of the day four music icons gathered in the studio that started their careers. If you've ever heard the original recordings that were made you know that Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash gathered around the piano (which Elvis played) and sang familiar gospel tunes. But, Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux (both contributed to the book, which came from Mutrux's original concept) use the reunion as a way to tell the story of Sun studios, and in particular, Sam Phillips, while generously sprinkling in some great music and a number of actual facts along the way. The result is a show that gives you what you really wanted; the opportunity to see these cats rock out together. The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis closes their 50th anniversary season with an amazing production of this jukebox musical. I've honestly never heard it sound as good as it does here, and some of the arrangements seem to have been tweaked a bit too. Truly a fabulous way to close a monumentally fine season.
Sam Phillips is anticipating the arrival of Johnny Cash, who he is prepared to offer a new contract to, and Elvis Presley, who wants him to come to RCA to take control of his musical career. Meanwhile, Sam's spending his time recording Carl Perkins with a fiery young Jerry Lee Lewis sitting in on piano. Nothing really goes as planned, since Cash has already signed with Columbia, and Phillips' desire to remain a boss rather than an employee, colors his attitude toward working for RCA. But, despite some minor moments of turmoil that erupt, the four men perform some great music together on this occasion.
James Ludwig gives Sam Phillips a likable quality that glosses over his rougher edges. This is as much Phillips' story as anyone, and Ludwig takes charge of the situation, pushing through the disappointments to maintain his status as a musical maverick. John Michael Presney deliver strong vocals and plenty of hot licks on his Les Paul as Carl Perkins. Presney gives his characterization a strong sense of humor, even when he's ticked off. Sky Seals has the look and vocal range to effectively convey his work as Johnny Cash. Seals also carries off Johnny's demeanor with aplomb. Dominque Scott has the chops and personality of Jerry Lee Lewis down, but Ari McKay Wilford neither looks or sounds much like Elvis. However, Wilford does bring enthusiasm to his part. Ryah Nixon is just great as Elvis' companion, Dyanne, and sizzles on her rendition of "Fever." Eric Scott Anthony as Brother Jay (bass) and Zach Cossman as Fluke (percussion) are impressively solid as the rhythm section, and add immeasurably to the overall sound with their impeccable work..
Director Hunter Foster maintains a generally light touch, which accentuates the humorous moments well, and shows a genuine flair in the staging of each musical number. But, Foster is also quite adept at handling some of the drama that occurs. John Michael Presney's work as music director displays a keen understanding and fondness for these musical gems. Since he's leading the band as Perkins, it only makes sense to have him in charge of the music. Honestly, the tunes sounds great, and the music is mixed perfectly. Scenic designer Adam Koch creates a version of Sun Records that blows away every production I've seen in the past. It's a lovingly rendered recreation of the studio, and it has the ability to open and close. Kirk Bookman's lighting heightens the atmosphere, and Lauren T. Roark's costumes are terrific fits for the characters.
The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis closes their 50th season with a sparkling production of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET. It's the dessert you savor after a multi-course meal, and it's completely satisfying. See it through April 9, 2017 on the Main Stage at the Loretto-Hilton.
Photo credit: Jerry Naunheim, Jr.