BWW Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET…Great Balls of Fire! @Great Lakes Theater
Part concert, part history lesson, a lot of rock 'n roll, and a heck of a good time-- that's MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, now on stage at the Great Lakes Theater.
The venue is playing host to Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Well, four performers portraying those icons of rock and roll, in a stage show that attempts to duplicate the one time that the four actually did get together for an informal rock session. The event took place in the recording studios of the legendary Sun Records on December 4, 1956.
Pretend it's 63 years ago, four emerging music icons, all of whom were good old Southern boys, identified and molded by Sam Phillips, are in his Memphis Sun Studios. They improvised an evening of gospel, blues and rock 'n roll music.
Whether the actions happened exactly as portrayed is not known, but the fact that there was such a jam session is a reality. A recording of the session, and a picture of the four, documented the event and became the basis for the musical with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux.
The event was chronicled by a reporter from the Memphis Press-Scimitar. The next day the article discussing the event stated, "This quartet could sell a million." Little did the reporter realize that though that number sounded like a lot, these four would go on to sell many, many millions, and become individual musical icons.
The GLT production, under the direction of Hunter Foster, is on target. The production is filled with well-timed humor and a little drama. And, of course, there is a "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."
The stage literally explodes with hit after hit, including Blue Suede Shoes, That's All Right, Sixteen Tons, I Walk the Line, Great Balls of Fireand Party. Then, there was a curtain call which featured the likes of Hound Dog, Riders in the Sky, and See You Later Alligator.
The cast members don't exactly look or sound like the big four of Rock and Roll and Rock-a-Billie, but they sing well, and play their own instruments.
Sean Michael Buckely faintly looks like Elvis, and imitates the prescribed hip swivels, pelvis thrusts and toe twists. He's missing the bedroom eyes and full lips and Elvis's search-light sexuality. Appropriately, the last line heard from the stage at the conclusion of the production was the famous exit line of the King of Rock, "And Elvis has left the building."
Gabe Aronson, who gives a new meaning to ADHD, delights as the undisciplined, dynamic pianist and performer, Jerry Lee Lewis. He is often electric on stage, hardly able to contain the character's twitching, jumping, and hillbilly persona.
James Barry develops nicely the conflicted Perkins, whose fame was eclipsed by Presley, all the way from the King taking Perkins' Blue Suede Shoes and making it into a hit that exceeded the original author's recording, but generally overshadowing the man known as the King of Rock-a-Billie.
James Ludwig gives a human portrayal of Sam Phillips, Kristen Beth Williams is fine as Presley's girl friend of the moment, bass player Eric Scott Anthony and drummer Dave Sonneborn, are excellent musicians who add much to the show.
Capsule judgement: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is one of those enjoyable evenings of theater. It's filled with great music and good enough performances that led to screaming, yelling, clapping, and multi-standing ovations given by the audience. Yes, Memories Are Made of This!
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET plays Great Lakes Theater through May 26, 2019. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or going to http://www.greatlakestheater.org/.