BWW Review: The Phoenix Theatre Company Presents MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET ~ Electrifying!
There's a whole lotta shakin' goin' on at the The Phoenix Theatre Company's Hormel Theatre. MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is in town ~ the Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott musical about a singular moment in rock and roll history when four legends of the genre ~ Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash ~ broke the sound barrier in Sun Studios.
The production, directed by Scott Weinstein, is a high-fidelity high voltage juke box tribute to the four icons who history records assembled for an impromptu jam session on December 4th, 1956. The occasion was unintended and serendipitous, but, if there's a rock and roll deity, it was surely divinely inspired. The tapes discovered years later are a virtual portal into the influences ~ Gospel, country, and blues ~ that would shape a generation of music.
Dynamic vocal and instrumental performances by Kavan Hashemian (Presley), Chris Lash (Lewis), Skye Scott (Perkins), and Gregg Hammer (Cash) of that session's songs provoke an irrepressible audience outburst of finger-snapping, toe-tapping elation. One after another of memorable hits ~ including Blue Suede Shoes, Sixteen Tons, Who Do You Love?, Ghost Riders in the Sky, Great Balls of Fire, and Folsom Prison Blues ~ are delivered with verve and panache, making for a total rock and roll love fest that culminates in a furious and rollicking finale.
Greg Hammer's deep bass is Cash on the barrelhead ~ mournful, haunting, and resolute. Kavan Hashemian, an MDQ veteran who has been billed by the BBC as The World's #1 Rock N Roll Elvis, has the look, the voice, and the swivel of the King. Skye Scott's command of the electric guitar is a perfect testament to Perkins's versatility. And, Chris Lash is extraordinary as the outlandish and irreverent Lewis, hammering away at the piano with thunderous fervor.
In the intervals between songs, the thread that holds the show together is the narration by Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Studios, about the progress of the session, his pained encounters with his discoveries who have accepted promising offers from RCA and Columbia, and his struggle to keep Sun's lights blazing. Kyle Sorrell delivers a sympathetic and steady portrayal of the determined music man whose pioneer accomplishments won him placement with the first group of inductees in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Added to the mix are brief exchanges between the stars that offer some limited insight into the challenges that they faced as they were scaling the ladder of stardom. Cash defining himself and his priorities. Perkins resentful at being outshined by Presley. Elvis enjoying the ride. Lewis whamming and jamming for the attention that he knows he deserves. Each stressing over balancing loyalty to Phillips with personal ambition.
Beyond these revelatory chats, however, we're not talking about deep dives into character profiles. The bottom line is that for whatever we might glean about the quartet's mindsets, this show is all about the music. And, in that regard, MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is pulsating, explosive, and infectious.
Now, for two important shoutouts:
Twice during the production, I was ready to say, Step aside, boys! That's when Alyssa Chiarello, portraying Elvis's girlfriend Dyanne, owned the stage and raised the roof with show-stopping sultry renditions of Fever and I Hear You Knocking. This is the third time I've seen her perform ~ first as the sassy and streetwise Anita in West Side Story, then in the ensemble of Kinky Boots ~ and, in each instance, she brings a mix of elegance, sexuality, and magnetism to her roles. In this show, Chiarello is dynamite!
Finally, Austin Case on bass and Alex Crossland on drums merit a round of applause for their rich and stirring backup to the foursome's stellar performances.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET's run extends from Christmas time through Valentine's Day (now to February 16th) and is guaranteed to warm, if not accelerate, the hearts of boomers and hopefully persuade post-millennials that rock and roll is here to stay.
Photo credit to Reg Madison Photography ~ Chris Lash as Jerry Lee Lewis
The Phoenix Theatre Company ~ www.phoenixtheatre.com ~ 1825 N. Central Avenue, Phoenix, AZ ~ Box office: 602-254-2151