BWW Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET - A Jubilant Evening Of Rockabilly
For decades ZACH Theatre has been the jewel in Austin's crown of arts, setting the tone for others with style and quality; once again they have brought the best live entertainment around to the Topfer Stage in collaboration with Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma located in Oklahoma City. MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is nothing short of fantastic from beginning to end.
The jukebox musical with book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, brings us rock and roll legends, Johnny Cash (Corbin Mayer), Carl Perkins (Billy Cohen), Jerry Lee Lewis (Gavin Rohrer) and Elvis Presley (Cole) together on December 4th, 1956, at the iconic Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee to recreate an actual event. Sam Phillips (Jeff Jeffers) brings the biggest recording artists of the time together for a special evening. Such songs as, 'Blue Suede Shoes', by Perkins, 'Wild One' by Jerry Lee Lewis, 'Hound Dog' by Elvis and 'I Walk The Line' by Johnny Cash, fill the evening with a dance down memory lane for the audience. The gathering in the show is, for the most part, an impromptu jam session for old friends with the addition of new kid on the block, the brash and uncouth Jerry Lee Lewis. As jukebox musicals go, the plot line is typically thin, but the music and performances are so wildly amazing you never even notice. The addition of a single female, Dyanne (Emily Farr) almost seems like an afterthought, and if it weren't for Farr's brilliant performance, (her rendition of 'Fever' is a show stopper) the role as Presley's girlfriend would be superfluous.
Zach Theatre's MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, nearly two and a half hour performance is outstanding, it's actors not only sing, dance and act, they play every instrument in the show. The sheer amount of talent on the Topfer Stage is staggering. The show starts with a toe tapping nostalgia that's infectious and ends with the audience dancing in a standing ovation that is pure joy. The entire cast is amazing, they play the iconic stars not as imitations, but with true heart and emotion. As Elvis, Cole (single name only), is magnetic, he not only matches the King in vocal style, he has the signature moves that bring the music idol to life. Billy Cohen's Carl Perkins is perfection, his guitar skills are off the charts, he totally rocks 'Matchbox' and my favorite, 'Who Do You Love'. Corbin Mayer as Johnny Cash knocks it out of the park with songs like 'Folsom Prison Blues' and 'Sixteen Tons'. As Sam Phillips, the visionary producer who gave us rockabilly, Jeff Jeffers holds it all together, as the show's narrator and does a stellar job on the harmonica in the finale. But it's Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis who steals the show. Jerry Lee was known as the 'wild man' of rock and roll due to his over the top ego and backwater manners. Rohrer does a fantastic job with Lewis' Louisiana drawl and nails his signature piano gymnastics. The talent on stage includes the backup band of Adam Egizi and Zachery Yanez as the base player and drummer respectively. Dave Steakley's direction is perfection, every moment of the performance is geared to entertain and he makes the entire production look seamless. Jeffrey Meek's costume design is beautiful, the height of 1950's fashion, all perfectly fitted to each actor, right down to jackets and shoes. The set design by Adam Koch is outstanding, his use of space and perspective is stunning. I was delighted to attend the performance with my mother, a former '50's teen herself. Every time I glanced in her direction, she had a mile wide grin on her face and was dancing in her seat. This was the music she grew up listening to, the soundtrack of her adolescence and she loved every moment. Even though I was born during the British music invasion that followed in the '60's, I remember every word of every song played during the performance.
If you're ready for a great evening of pure delight, MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is your ticket. I give my highest recommendation to ZACH Theatre's latest triumph, it's a not to be missed celebration of the birth of rock and roll. If you grew up with rockabilly on the radio or had a stack of Elvis 45's, this is the show for you. If you grew up in another era, then it's the perfect show to learn how these musical pioneers got started. I promise you will be singing the show tunes long after you leave the theatre.
Photos by Kirk Tuck
July 26 - September 3
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes with one 20 minute intermission.
Tickets: $29 - $84, zachtheatre.org