BWW Reviews: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET Brings Old Time Rock and Roll to the Kennedy Center
On December 4, 1956, four young musicians gathered at Sun Records in Memphis for what has been called one of the greatest jam sessions ever.
The national tour of the Tony Award winning MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, running now through October 6 at Washington, D.C.'s Kennedy Center, brings that legendary night to life, featuring a score of rock hits including "Blue Suede Shoes," "Fever," "That's All Right," "Sixteen Tons," "Great Balls of Fire," "Walk the Line," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Who Do You Love?," "Matchbox," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Hound Dog" and more.
Unlikely as it might seem, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, four musical legends, ended up under the same roof for a few short hours. It never happened again, and it only happened thanks to music producer Sam Phillips (portrayed by Vince Nappo), also known as the "Father of Rock and Roll." A recording of the actual jam session is available for purchase at Amazon.com, but MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET brings the session to life in a way that an audio recording never could.
Forget triple threats - the actors in this show are quadruple threats, because not only can they act, sing and dance, but all four are also talented musicians who show off their skills throughout the show. The actors portraying Elvis Presley (Tyler Hunter), Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau) and Carl Perkins (James Barry) all displayed impressive guitar skills, but the show stealer was really the portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis (John Countryman).
Anyone familiar with the then-young musician Lewis can guess that Countryman's piano playing skills are phenomenal. The loudest applause of the evening was reserved not for Elvis, as one might expect, but for the show-stopping "Great Balls of Fire" number, which included piano playing at top speed while the actor sat atop the piano with his back facing the keys.
Although rock and roll is at the center of the show, gospel fans will be pleased to know that several slower and quieter gospel numbers are included, reminding the audience that all four musicians came from a southern gospel background.
The mainly non-acting musicians on bass and drums, Corey Kaiser and Patrick Morrow, also performed wonderfully, as did Kelly Lamont as Dyanne, Elvis's date for the evening who was a talented singer in her own right.
One aspect to be noted is that the show is louder than a typical musical, no doubt to showcase the rock and roll instrumentals, but it might prove uncomfortable to anyone sensitive to loud noises. It runs straight through with no intermission, but at 90-95 minutes, it's still shorter than many movies, so it's not an excessive length.
Theater-goers of a certain age will no doubt appreciate the show for nostalgia's sake, but don't shy away if you're too young to remember when the Million Dollar Quartet members were popular. Audiences of all ages can't seem to get enough of that old time rock and roll.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET runs in the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater evenings at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday now through October 6, with matinee performances at 1:30 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Tickets are $59 and up and available for purchase online, at the Kennedy Center box office, or by calling Instant Charge at 202-467-4600 or 800-444-1324. Visit kennedy-center.org for more details.