BWW Reviews: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET Rocks Austin

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You may see some construction around Downtown Austin next week, because the National Tour of Million Dollar Quartet just blew the roof off of the Bass Concert Hall. The show, a rollicking 110 minute salute to iconic, classic rock and rollers, seems almost tailor made for Austin, the live music capitol of the world. The only thing louder than the music is the screams and hollers from the crowd.

The show follows a real-life recording session at Sun Records on December 4, 1956 in which Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and a very young and starry-eyed Jerry Lee Lewis came together in the studio for the first and only time. With the exception of a few flashbacks in which we're told how Sun Records owner Sam Phillips discovered each performer, the entire show takes place in the intimate studio, allowing the audience to be a fly on the wall at one of the most influential and important recording sessions of all time. The book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux is a bit hokey at times (there are a lot of "Please play your big hit" kind of lines) and though it tries for dramatic tension at points, it never quite gets there. But still, going to a show like Million Dollar Quartet for the book is like reading Playboy for the articles. The big draw of the show is the music, and the show is stuffed with greatest hits from the quartet.

While it must be daunting to step into the shoes of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis, this cast is quite up to the challenge. It's one thing to imitate, impersonate, or caricature these icons, but it's quite another to turn them into fully realized characters. While all four of the main performers completely nail the sound of these rock and rollers, the extent of their performances goes much further than that. David Elkins brings Cash's aloofness and somberness to life, and his deep baritone voice completes the persona. James Barry instills a certain arrogance and desperation into Carl Perkins, who at the time of the recording session was struggling to recharge his career. As Elvis Presley, Cody Slaughter oozes sex appeal as he brings forth young Elvis's gravelly vocals of his early career and his signature moves. Slaughter shows us exactly why the Elvis pelvis was banned from the Ed Sullivan show. And as Jerry Lee Lewis, Ben Goddard is a scene stealer. He plays Jerry Lee as an eccentric, witty, ambitious young kid who is equally infuriating and loveable. As a unit, these four have incredible chemistry, and the fact that they all play their instruments as well makes their performances all the more palatable and authentic. They're also bolstered by four equally talented supporting players. Bass player Corey Kaiser and drummer Billy Shaffer are incredible performers and showmen, Kelly Lamont proves to have quite a set of pipes as Elvis's girlfriend Dyanne, and Vince Nappo plays Sam Phillips as a self-assured, driven Pied Piper.

Musicians like Elvis, Johnny, Carl, and Jerry don't come along too often, and neither do shows like Million Dollar Quartet. This is one enjoyable, high-energy, no frills show where the music truly takes center stage. There may not be much in terms of plot, but there sure is a whole lotta shakin' goin' on.

Running time: Approximately 110 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Cody Slaughter as Elvis Presley in the National Tour of Million Dollar Quartet. Phot by Jeremy Daniel.

MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET plays the Bass Concert Hall at 2350 Robert Dedman Drive, Austin TX now thru April 14. Performances are Wednesday thru Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 2pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 1pm and 7pm. Tickets are $25-$80. For tickets and information, please visit http://austin.broadway.com.




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