BWW Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET: Rock 'n' Roll Is Here To Stay
Million Dollar Quartet
Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, Directed by Ilyse Robbins, Music Directed by James Scheider; Scenic Designer, Patrick Lynch; Lighting Designer, Jeff Adelberg; Costume Designer, Stephen Pasqual; Sound Designer, John Stone; Properties Master, Emme Shaw; Production Stage Manager, Deirdre Benson
Performances through May 19 at Greater Boston Stage company, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA; Box Office 781-279-2200 or www.greaterbostonstage.org
On December 4, 1956, at Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, a great moment in rock 'n' roll history occurred, almost by chance. Record producer Sam Phillips, sometimes referred to as the "Father of Rock 'n' Roll," brought together the past, present, and future artists of his recording company for an impromptu jam session which was photographed and recorded for posterity. Phillips discovered Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Jerry Lee Lewis, dubbed the Million Dollar Quartet, and changed the trajectory of their lives and the music business at a time when everyone thought that rock 'n' roll was just a passing fancy.
Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux co-wrote the book for the stage musical Million Dollar Quartet which premiered in 2007, first at Florida's Seaside Music Theatre and then Village Theatre in Issaquah, Washington. In 2008, it had a limited run at Chicago's Goodman Theatre, and then transferred to Chicago's Apollo Theater. The Broadway production, which was nominated for three Tony Awards (won one), opened at the Nederlander Theatre in April, 2010, and ran for 489 performances, closing in June, 2011. Off-Broadway and West End stints followed. Now, the Greater Boston Stage Company brings the uplifting musical to Stoneham, under the direction of Associate Artistic Director Ilyse Robbins, with musical direction by James Scheider.
Although the libretto includes some of the early history of Sun and the development of the relationships between Phillips (always reliable Robert Saoud) and the not-yet-famous members of the quartet, the main reason to see this show is for the generous bounty of musical numbers. Nearly two dozen songs, most of which will be familiar to people of a certain age or fans of the artists, are played and sung with brio by the cast. Nile Scott Hawver (Carl Perkins), Scheider (Jerry Lee Lewis), Austin Wayne Price (Johnny Cash), and Luke Linsteadt (Elvis Presley) act out their characters with just enough imitation to evoke the originals, while never sliding into caricature. Price's vocals capture the depth and twang of Cash's voice, Linsteadt's rubbery legs gamely showcase Presley's antics, and Scheider's rapid key-pounding and glissando runs on the 88s are barely contained. Hawver is a masterful technician on lead guitar and brings out the personality of every song. Trey Lundquist (drums) and Matthew Pitts (bass) are onstage throughout and provide solid backup as session musicians. In a show that is laden with testosterone, Melissa Geerlof (Dyanne) adds femininity, a flashy Pepsodent smile, and a couple of smoking vocals as Elvis' love interest.
Scenic designer Patrick Lynch provides a realistic recording studio, including a glassed-in booth where Phillips presides over the session. Jeff Adelberg's lighting design creates a variety of moods, and also carves out areas of the set for small group scenes. The actors wear head mics, but sound designer John Stone could pump up the volume on the book scenes. Conversely, the musical numbers vary in intensity, with a few at ear-splitting level, but they seemed to modulate as the show progressed. The costumes (designer Stephen Pasqual) are appropriate for the styles of the era, but the painted-on red dress worn by Geerlof seems over-the-top for hanging out at a recording studio. Kudos to properties master Emme Shaw for her attention to detail.
As director, Robbins has the benefit of her own choreographic talents to add to the mix. Although there isn't dancing, per se, there is an abundance of rhythmic movement that appears to be organic. Of course, these guys are all experienced musicians and let their musical feelings manifest in the way they play their instruments and move around the stage. It becomes infectious, especially in their performance of the last four songs, when there's a "Whole Lotta Shakin' Going On," and the only ones still seated in the audience must be "nothin' but a hound dog, cryin' all the time."