BWW Review: Rock-N-Roll Lives On Through the MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Arkansas Repertory Theatre
Rock-n-Roll came alive on the Arkansas Repertory Theatre stage Sunday afternoon as the "Million Dollar Quartet" told the story of Sam Phillips (Karack Osborn) and his history with "my boys" Elvis Presley (Trent Rowland), Johnny Cash (Bill Scott Sheets), Carl Perkins (Skye Scott), and Jerry Lee Lewis (Brandyn Day). Directed by Hunter Foster, who was named 2018 "Director of the Year" by the Wall Street Journal, the show is based on the infamous picture of the four musicians gathered around a piano on December 4, 1956, at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. According to the story, Carl Perkins was having a recording session with a then unknown Jerry Lee Lewis on piano. Elvis Presley stops in since he was in town with motives to convince Phillips to take the deal with RCA, and Johnny Cash was called in for a surprise renewal of his contract. Though labeled as a jukebox musical, it really is a play within a concert.....or a concert within a play, whichever way you want to look at it. I LOVED it! The cast was phenomenal. I want to see it again. It is a definite must-see show!
Though the guys resembled their intended artist, they were not really impersonators, but actors portraying their characters all struggling with the beginnings of show business. However, their mastery over their instruments and sounding like their musician was impressive.
Osborn held a commanding presence throughout the show leading the audience through the story, while showing his own emotional struggle with his decision of continuing with Sun Records. Rowland emitted the sexual charm Presley had, with a little vulnerability in his need for security dealing with record giant RCA. On his arm was the most recent girlfriend Dyanne (Alyssa Gardner), who was very loosely based on Marilyn Evans, a lesser known girlfriend. Gardner's character was a sounding board for the guys and lent her vocals as backup, as well as having a couple of featured songs herself. Scott's brooding Carl Perkins shone on the guitar while aiming smug remarks to the "Wild Child" Jerry Lee Lewis. Day's comedic timing had me laughing throughout the play watching him bring Lewis to life. The best impersonation, though, goes to Sheets' portrayal of Johnny Cash. The deep voice and demanding persona really wowed me. Musically pushing the show along was drummer W.S. "Fluke Holland (Dave Lincoln) and bassist Jay Perkins (Brian Wolverton).
Set designer Adam Koch and his team did an outstanding job transforming the Rep into, what I would guess, is a very accurate portrayal of what Sun Records looked like back in the 50s. Costume designer Lauren T. Roark and her crew looks like they had a fun time dressing these guys and transforming them into the rock icons they were playing. And of course I have to mention how amazing of a job that the music supervisor James Barry and his people did to take the audience back to, in my opinion, the best musical era ever.
Seriously, this show will leave you wanting more. Million Dollar Quartet runs through October 6. You should go soon, so if you need to see it again, you can. To purchase tickets, visit their website at therep.org or call (501) 378.0405.