Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Bank Of America Performing Arts Center Kavli Theatre

don't miss this high energy, electrifying, joyous musical through March 24th

By: Mar. 20, 2024
Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Bank Of America Performing Arts Center Kavli Theatre
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Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Bank Of America Performing Arts Center Kavli Theatre
Adam Poole, Garrett Forrestal, Will Riddle,
LJ Benet and Peter Oyloe star in Million Dollar Quartet

Million Dollar Quartet is a high energy, electrifying, joyous musical at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center in Thousand Oaks through March 24th.  This feel-good show by 5-Star Theatricals is an absolute joy, and I would happily rewatch Million Dollar Quartet dozens of times.  This musical is inspired by a historical jam session, when stars Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins all played together at Sun Records in Memphis in 1956.  5-Star Theatricals does superb work capturing the charisma and characters of these great rock and country legends, and the music and energy of the show is breathtaking, jubilant and infectious.  Million Dollar Quartet has one extraordinary songbook.  You don’t want to miss this show.

The honky-tonk, bluesy, country-fried swing sound of early rock and roll is not played much these days, so this performance is a rare treat.  This early rockabilly rock and roll pulls its deep joy and wild, ecstatic soul from gospel, its funk and flow from blues, its rollicking twang from country.  I grew up loving the sound of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard and Pat Boone, but I’ve never heard this sound performed live before.  It is spectacular on stage at the Bank of America theatre.  There is dynamic and bravura direction from Tim Seb, who also directed the most recent national tour of Million Dollar Quartet, and real greatness in the musical direction from David Lamoureux.

Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Bank Of America Performing Arts Center Kavli Theatre
Garrett Forrestal stars as 
Jerry Lee Lewis​​

Peter Oyloe, LJ Benet, Will Riddle, and Garrett Forrestal stun me with their ability to play virtuoso instruments, sing, act, inhabit musical legends  — it’s a sheer dazzling display of talent.

Garrett Forrestal played Jerry Lee Lewis in the National Tour of Million Dollar Quartet Christmas, and he is absolutely made for this role, all gangly, hillbilly chutzpah and sheer fire.  It is a bravura, funny, crazy, indelible, genius performance.  “Real Wild Child” and Great Balls of Fire” are rollicking, wild, and unforgettable.

LJ Benet as Elvis brilliantly invokes his husky voice, his sleepy cool, his country boy charm, his slinky, androgynous sex appeal and trademark moves. “Hound Dog” is perfection. I haven’t been much of a Johnny Cash fan, but Peter Oyloe brings a lot of depth, humility, and quiet, reserved charisma to the Man in Black.  “Sixteen Tons” is mesmerizing in Oyloe’s hypnotic baritone.  Will Riddle as Carl Perkins is pitch perfect, with a great look and ability to inhabit this 1950s era with great detail and realism.  Riddle’s attitude, sass and humor spark the sessions and keep the show dynamic.  “My Babe” and “See You Later Alligator” are rocking and must-hear hits that I’m still humming.

Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Bank Of America Performing Arts Center Kavli Theatre
Will Riddle and Summer Nicole Greer
star in 5-Star Theatricals production
of Million Dollar Quartet

And what a pleasure it is to see Summer Nicole Greer star as Elvis’ girlfriend.  I’m familiar with Greer for her work at the Disneyland Resort, where she shines as a vocalist.  Here in Million Dollar Quartet, she is one of the best voices in a cast that is stacked with superlative voices.  Her rendition of “Fever” is smoldering, sexy, and dramatic, with a visceral sound that actually gave me goosebumps. Summer Nicole Greer reminds of jazz legends like Nina Simone and Billie Holiday.

Million Dollar Quartet as written doesn’t give her character a lot of airtime, with only two great songs and a little dialogue, and I’d love to see this role expanded.  As it is, Greer adds incredible energy, old school, powerhouse femininity and diva star wattage to this show.

Adam Poole is a little contained and flatly matter-of-fact as narrating character Sam Phillips.  This role calls for a bigger character, more of a country guy impresario with some kind of outsize charisma to pursue his crazy big dreams for Sun Records and bring us barreling into the show (and when he tells us he is from Alabama, we don’t hear it).

Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Bank Of America Performing Arts Center Kavli Theatre
Lonn Hayes, Will Riddle and Adam Poole

I was astonished to learn that Sam Phillips was in fact a real person, a genius record producer who recorded and discovered many great blues artists like BB King and Howlin’ Wolf, as well as rock and country legends like Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison, and Carl Perkins.  He is actually a vital figure in the development of the rock and roll sound.  Sun Records was on the cutting edge of a new sound and a new era, all from Phillips’ little storefront in a former auto parts shop in Memphis.

There are so many great, bring-down-the-house numbers in Million Dollar Quartet.   Benny Lipson as Brother Jay and Lonn Hayes as Fluke keep the joint jumping and the music hot with their instrumental work, which is vibrant and electrifying.

The brilliant lighting design by Brandon Baruch (whose work I also admired in Oliver!) is emotive, gorgeous, and moody.  It gives us an impressively dynamic sense of tonal range and movement in what is essentially a static set with no changes for the entire production.

Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Bank Of America Performing Arts Center Kavli Theatre
Benny Lipson, Garrett Forrestal, Will Riddle,
Peter Oyloe, and Lonn Hayes

Living in an age which can be paranoid about anything religious or spiritual, it is refreshing that Million Dollar Quartet is not afraid to touch upon the profound faith of these musical legends.  The 19th century spiritual “Down by the Riverside” and the 1930s spiritual “Peace in the Valley” are some of the most beautiful and affecting pieces of music in the show. 

Million Dollar Quartet is a truly fantastic, feel-good show that will you have jumping for joy in your seat.   I loved 5-Star Theatricals fantastic work producing Oliver!, and with Million Dollar Quartet, they’ve done it again.

Photos by Veronica Slavin

Million Dollar Quartet runs through March 24th at the Bank of America Performing Arts Center Kavli Theatre.  The Bank of America Performing Arts Center is located at 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd, in Thousand Oaks.  You can get tickets by calling (805) 449-2787 or by clicking the button below: