BWW Reviews: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET - A Whole Lotta Shakin' & Rock History Goin' On


A few weeks ago, after a sneak preview, I wrote that Million Dollar Quartet, "based on its history and this 'sneak peek,' Million Dollar Quartet will be a major crowd-pleaser." Well, it had its official opening at Harrahs in Las Vegas February 19 and, based on the performance and the crowd's reaction, it could run forever in Las Vegas.

The plot, such as it is, is well-known. Based on, literally, a sidebar in the book Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock 'N' Roll by Colin Escott. He, along with Floyd Mutrux, wrote the play and Eric Schaffer directed and Chuck Mead was musical director/arranger.

The show recounts a few hours at Sun Records in Memphis on December 4, 1956. A recording session for Carl Perkins was scheduled in an effort to have a hit follow-up to his mega-hit, "Blue Suede Shoes." As it opens, Perkins (Robert Britton Lyons) and his brother Jay (Mikey Hachey) are in the studio with Fluke (Jim Belk), the drummer. In bursts a brash kid, a 21-year-old who repeatedly introduces himself as "Jerry Lee Lewis, "(Martin Kaye) "Ferriday, Louisiana." He's there to get Sun owner Sam Phillips (Marc D. Donovan) to sign him to the label.

Joining the group are Johnny Cash (Benjamin D. Hale) and Elvis (Tyler Hunter), who brings Dyanne (Felice Garcia), his girlfriend of the moment.

I cannot describe the cast members without running through a list of superlatives. But that's boring, so I won't do it. Suffice to say they are all superlative. If you saw Jerry Lee Lewis in person when he was just starting out, you know that Martin Kaye captures the ferocity with which Lewis attacked his music. Elvis is super-genial, Cash seems the most mature of the group and Perkins is restless for the next hit to come that, sadly, never matched the success of his first hit. Each man captures the essence and voice of the person he portrays. They are a joy to watch. Each of them.

The story is less about all the guys who were to follow Elvis, already a superstar. It is, however, mostly the tale of Sam Phillips, who pretty much created the music that Cincinnati DJ Alan Freed in 1951 named "rock 'n' roll. "

Phillips was an innovator, way ahead of his time. Early in their careers he signed B.B. King, Charlie Rich and Roy Orbison. He discovered Howlin' Wolf and, of course, the members of the Million Dollar Quartet.

Now, when the show takes place, Presley, Cash and Perkins already had hits. Perkins was the first ever to get a song ("Blue Suede Shoes") to #1 on the rock 'n' roll, country and R&B charts. Elvis was making movies and had opened in Las Vegas for Shecky Green - an experience so awful to him that he vowed never to play Las Vegas again. Phillips had sold Elvis' contract to RCA awhile before and Cash was there that evening to see his friends and tell Phillips he had signed with Columbia.

Each cast member who plays a musician actually does play. There is no recorded music. This is a bunch of very, very talented people and each song they perform is a classic on its own - "Folsom Prison Blues," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Great Balls of Fire," "Hound Dog," and the beautiful gospel number "Peace In The Valley." They even sing the Bill Haley classic "See You Later Alligator." I'm not sure it belongs here, but it was terrific fun.

Million Dollar Quartet is performed at 7 p.m, Thursday through Tuesday. There is a 9:30 show Thursday and Saturday. Tickets are priced at $69 to $94.20, including taxes and fees. Visit

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From This Author Ellen Sterling

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