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Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET by Ogunquit Playhouse At The Music Hall

A one night jam with four music greats

By: Mar. 27, 2023
Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET by Ogunquit Playhouse At The Music Hall  Image
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On December 4, 1956, at a time when their individual careers were on different trajectories, four musical legends gathered at Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee to record a few tunes. It would be the one and only time that the four musicians ever jammed together in a recording studio.

This once in a lifetime gathering is the storyline for Million Dollar Quartet, a Broadway musical that portrays the meeting of Elvis Presley (Daniel Durston), Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau), Carl Perkins (Christopher Wren) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Nat Zegree), each whose career was launched by the studio owner, Sam Phillips (Bart Shatto).

While this stage version of the story is mostly fictionalized, the characters portrayed and their musical hits are genuine. One by one, each actor has a moment to shine when they not only become the real life musicians on stage, but they also play their musical instruments, sing in their unique vocal styles, and capture the subtle mannerisms that mirror their real life personas.

The four key players cast in this show can only be called spectacular. It is a rare combination to be great actors and great musicians as well.

A personal favorite is Durston as Presley. His portrayal is wonderfully underplayed relying less on the stereotypical hip gyrations to create the Elvis character (Remember Elvis the Pelvis?) and more on his uncanny resemblance and his spot-on vocal styling to make the audience believe that Elvis is currently live on the Portsmouth Music Hall stage. His renditions of "That's All Right," "Long Tall Sally" and "Hound Dog" are among the highlights of the evening.

Hailing from Litchfield, Maine, Moreau is perfectly cast as Johnny Cash. While he has a more than slight resemblance to his real-life character, Moreau's vocals and mannerisms capture every nuance of the deeply religious country western singer's speaking voice and deep resonating bass/baritone quality. Moreau's performance is exceptional especially in "Folsom Prison Blues," "Sixteen Tons" and "I Walk The Line."

Wren is a lively portrayal of Carl Perkins, the king of "rockabilly," a combination of rock n' roll and hillbilly music. Wren takes command with his performance on guitar and masterfully portrays Perkins in the throes of a career slump where his most well-known song, "Blue Suede Shoes," becomes a signature number for Presley and not for Perkins.

And filling out the quartet is Zegree as the absolutely out of control, outrageous, young, upstart, Jerry Lee Lewis. (He also does double duty as the music director for the production.) This talented fellow gives new meaning to pounding on the piano as he physically attacks the instrument to the point that you wonder if it will survive the onslaught. His rendition of "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" are showstoppers. The stage becomes electric when Zegree is in on the action.

Megan Reinking is stunning as Presley's girlfriend, Dyanne, as she sings her way through sultry and steamy numbers. Nathan Yates Douglass is a bass player out of control as he plays his instrument in every possible gyrating angle and position with Kieran McCabe offering back up for percussion.

Shatto gives a powerful performance as recording executive Sam Phillips, who also serves as the show's narrator, caught in the maze of launching new talent only to see them move on to bigger and more lucrative recording contracts when they experience success. He's a skilled storyteller who is the foundation of the production.

The original Broadway scenic design by Derek McLane brilliantly captures the ambience of a recording studio in 1956 that was formerly an auto parts store. Director, Hunter Foster, keeps the production well-paced while Costume Designer, Molly Walz recreates the 1950s fashion with style and flair.

Knowing that anything can happen in live theater, the audience at the Saturday matinee was brought to a hushed silence when a tower of stage lights toppled to the floor during curtain call barely striking the piano and missing a direct hit to Reinking. The actors quietly left the stage and the audience sat in disbelief about what occurred. Much to their delight, the cast returned to the stage after about ten minutes and did the mini-concert ending of the show that gives a center stage solo number to each performer to showcase their talents. It was a courageous example of actors insuring that "the show must go on." And the theater gods were watching over the cast in an accident that could have had terrible consequences.

The Ogunquit Playhouse, founded with only a summer stock season of productions, continues to expand to a year round presence with this spring time performance of Million Dollar Quartet. Southern Maine and New Hampshire audiences are all the better for the ongoing collaboration between the Ogunguit based theater and The Music Hall in Portsmouth.

Million Dollar Quartet runs through April 9 at The Music Hall.


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