BWW Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Shea's 710 Theatre
One could say the stars aligned for one brief day in 1956 when four musicians at the edge of stardom met in the same recording studio. Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins make up that aptly named MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET and their story plays out in the musical play of the same name. Produced by MusicalFare and present by Shea's 710 Theatre, this slick production is sure to make music lovers of all kinds appreciate how these four titans changed the sound of American music with rock and roll.
The small record company SUN Records was the brain child of Sam Phillips, whose sweat and determination made stars out of his discoveries in Memphis, Tennessee. But when RCA and Columbia Records attempt to "acquire" his stars, the fate of Phillips and his company lay in the balance. By 1956 Presley, Perkins and Cash were on their way, but newcomer Lewis literally burst into Phillips office, self declaring to be the next hit maker for Sun Records.
The book is by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, and is told from Phillips perspective. One can only imagine what really happened that day, but in telling this story, each of the four get to sing their own hit parades. This is where MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET succeeds where many other juke box musicals fail. In this context, we hear the songs sung by the actual artists, instead of being shoehorned into the plot of a newly conceived story. Director Randall Kramer allows each of the men to place their individual stamp on this iconic characters without allowing bad impressions or cliche to set in.
Joseph Donohue III is on fire as Jerry Lee Lewis. From his entrance, his electric personality commands the stage. Donohue is a dynamo on the piano, playing in every possible position, singing his heart out and engaging the audience from start to finish. By the time he sings "Great Balls of Fire" you are swept away into another era. Andrew J. Reimers is Johnny Cash, our man in black. With his tall stature and reserved presence, he gave an understated but effective performance. The audience seemed most eager to hear his hits including "Folsom Prison Blues" and "I Walk the Line."
Nick Stevens gets the juicy role of Elvis, and he has studied the King's moves. Although a bit slight in stature, Mr. Stevens revels in the famous hip gyrating moves that made Elvis Presley what he was. By the time he sings "Hound Dog" it became clear that no one had seen the likes of this performer before.
Carl Perkins is played by Brandon Barry, the fourth member of the quartet whose career was not as bright as the other three. Perkins was a great song writer and although he wrote and recorded "Blue Suede Shoes," it was Elvis' rendition that became famous, to the infuriation of Perkins. Mr. Barry plays electric guitar with precision.
Jeffrey Coyle is perfectly cast as Sam Phillips, the guru whose magic created these stars. Coyle creates a character full of heart, insight and determination. You can sense a mind of brilliance in Phillips, and Coyle subtly embodies this man who is in charge but knows how to cultivate talent. As the quartet ascends stardom, their paths veer away from Sun, but for one day, they all jammed in the recording studio before they went on their separate paths.
The story incorporates one single female into the mix, Dyanne, who enters on the arm of Elvis and sticks around. Arianne Davidow is simply a knock out, especially in "I Hear You Knocking." Her infectious energy and strong vocals made her a mighty match for the men.
The two constants throughout are the onstage musicians that make up the backup for all of the artists. Brian McMahon on drums gave a slick and energetic performance while Dave Siegfried on bass epitomized the laid back cool nature one associates with that instrument.
The script incorporates some of the behind the scenes drama that goes into making any great career, including egos and the almighty dollar. But Phillips work ethic and keen ear ensured he would still be able to make Sun Records a success.
Set designer Chris Cavanagh has given a life like representation of the studio and it's roof top (based on the original design of Chris Schenk). Kari Drozd has designed detailed and fun costumes for the 1950's. Cavanagh's lighting was effective and let's loose during the height of the jam session.
Music Director Theresa Quinn is given a bevy of multi-talented performers to work with. Kudos to all of them for making the entire play appear impromptu and fresh, without a sour note to be heard. When the full cast gets rocking, so does the audience. This embarrassment of historical riches is brilliantly mirrored on stage by the fabulous cast and everyone involved had a 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On" by the show's encore.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET runs through March 31,2019 at Shea's 710 Theatre. Contact sheas.org for more information.