BWW Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Seven Angels Theatre
On Friday, November 3, I had the pleasure of seeing my first production at Seven Angels Theatre, in Waterbury, CT. I hope to see many more shows there, as MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET was a top quality production! Inspired by a true story that took place on December 4, 1956, director Semina De Laurentis leads a highly talented cast to a performance that yields numerous applauses and rave accolades from the audience.
Sun Records is the record company responsible for launching the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and eventually Roy Orbison. Sam Phillips is the highly likeable owner of Sun Records. The set depicts the inside of the Sun Records Studio, complete with hanging gold records and Sam Phillips' sound booth.
After Sam Phillips sold Elvis Presley's contract a year earlier, Elvis returns to Sun Records Studio for a visit, during a recording session for Carl Perkins, a session in which Johnny Cash appears, while up and coming young musician Jerry Lee Lewis is also present. Carl Perkins is accompanied by his brother Jay on stand up bass, and a drummer named Fluke. Brother Jay and Fluke are portrayed by Perry Orfanella and Mark Ryan, respectively, each of whom is extremely talented on his instrument, as are the other actors, also playing their own instruments.
Sam Phillips comes across as genuinely caring, with a knack for bringing out the best in the musicians who come his way. Phillips is convincingly portrayed by Jason Loughlin who conveys emotions so strongly that the audience can feel them, especially in a scene in which he receives some devastating and heartbreaking news. He elicits positive reactions when breaking the fourth wall to a crowd that enjoys every moment of the show.
Jerry Lee Lewis is an exciting character with incredible piano skills. He is in the early stages of his career, trying to make a name for himself as a person and as a pianist. Actor Dominique Scott is perfect in this role, able to play the piano with his feet, and while blindfolded. He directly imitates Jerry Lee Lewis' voice and brings a lot of comic relief to the show. Never hesitating to say what is on his mind or to stretch himself in unusual positions, Jerry Lee Lewis comes across as someone who is not mentally stable, essentially, the type of person who would marry his own thirteen year old cousin. Dominique Scott's deliberate portrayal of such a farcical personality brings a high level of energy to the show.
Carl Perkins is portrayed by masterful lead guitarist, Jeremy Sevelovitz who even plays guitar behind his back. The anger and frustration at only having one number one hit ("Blue Suede Shoes") eats away at him, especially after having seen Elvis cover it on the Ed Sullivan Show. Sam Phillips is desperately trying to get Carl Perkins another hit, hoping "Matchbox," could be the song, an attempt marred by Carl Perkins' disdain for Jerry Lee Lewis trying to showcase his own piano skills, during the recording. Jerry Lee Lewis, for his part, is not the least bit fazed by Carl Perkins' overt anger towards him, creating a humorous dynamic between the two, enhanced by the strong stage chemistry between Jeremy Sevelovitz and Dominique Scott.
Sky Seals portrays the man in black, Johnny Cash, impersonating his singing voice, speaking voice, and vocal mannerisms with precision, while playing rhythm guitar. It was interesting to hear about Johnny Cash's spiritual side and his desire to make a gospel record. He comes across as very likeable, despite having to deliver some sad news.
Elvis is played by Cole who excellently imitates Elvis' vocals and mannerisms both on fast songs and slow songs, while also playing rhythm guitar. In a Sam Phillips flashback scene, we see how Elvis' first hit "That's Alright Mama," initially started out as a slower song, but under the direction of Sam Phillips evolved into the faster song that we know, today.
When Elvis Presley arrives, Sam Phillips realizes that he now has a million dollar quartet, together in the studio. Also, Elvis has brought a date named Dyanne. While I don't know what the actual Dyanne sounded like, I'm sure we all would know who she was, today, if she was anywhere near as vocally talented as actress Teresa Danskey who plays her.
The entire cast clearly enjoys performing, radiating positive energy that resonates throughout the crowd. They harmonize well with each other and all have very tight stage chemistry together, each with an excellent individual stage presence, too. It is like watching a tribute concert, with a fascinating storyline behind it, as we get a glimpse into some things that happened behind the music, during the earliest stages of rock n' roll history. They play many of their own songs, as well as other songs made famous by Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Bill Haley & His Comets, and Bo Diddley, four other prominent rock n' roll pioneers. While Jerry Lee Lewis tries to shame himself and the others by claiming that it is the devil's music they are playing, and that they are leading children astray, the music, much to the contrary, has many spiritual roots, as evidenced in numbers like "Down By The Riverside," and "Peace in the Valley," expressing the Christian faith common to all four men, even if under different denominations.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is scheduled to continue to run at Seven Angels Theatre in Waterbury, CT, on Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, through November 26. For times and tickets check the theatre's website at http://www.sevenangelstheatreconnecticut.com/.
I highly recommend this show for people who want to hear good quality rock n' roll, the way it was in the early days, when it was innovative and groundbreaking and the musicians genuinely had talent. This cast has the skills and musical appeal to tour together as a tribute band, if they want to, even after the show's run ends.