BWW Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET Jams Out at the Benedum
Imagine a room filled with four of the greatest rising stars of the music industry today. It's hard to think of only four standout artists, but on December 4, 1956 in a small auto shop-turned-recording studio, Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records, found himself in the company of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. Million Dollar Quartet chronicles this impromptu recording session with four of the hottest artists of the time, taking liberties and dramatizing the one act musical to make a plot of a single night worthy of a Broadway stage.
With the recording studio backdrop, a piano off to stage right, and three 1950s studio microphones arranged on stage, Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye) enters on piano, Carl Perkins (BILLY FINN) on electric guitar, and Johnny Cash (Derek Keeling) and Elvis Presley (James Snyder) on guitar begin assuming their roles as each come through to talk with Sam Phillips (Christopher Ryan Grant).
The casting for Million Dollar Quartet is something that must be done with great attention. Of the eight actors, four are near household names with a lot to live up to.
Mr. Keeling walks the line; Mr. Finn dances in his blue suede shoes; and Mr. Snyder is a brown eyed handsome man. Their looks, accents, movements, and idiosyncrasies needed to be impeccable, and no one captured this better than Mr. Kaye. He fits his well-written part perfectly, playing up every joke with the right amount of smartass-ness. He sends his electrifying energy through all his limbs, shaking and tapping his legs and playing the piano with amazing ease.
Dyanne (Zurin Villanueva), Elvis's girlfriend, is the only female role in the show, offering two solo numbers "Fever" and "I Hear You Knockin'". Although she made me sweat uncomfortably during her first number, her redemptive rendition of her second song left me with chills.
This show does not include a conventional pit orchestra. Each cast member picks up their own instrument to deliver the music wholly from singing to strumming. It is worthy of praise to see multifaceted artists making music together, just as the quartet did 60 years ago.
As mentioned earlier, the cast uses 1950s era microphones when singing, but when they are conversing with one another, traditional, modern stage microphones are used. At times, transitioning between microphones left some accidentally turned off longer than they should have been, but these minor technical issues did not impair the overall story. The tale itself is rather lackluster, but you shouldn't really be attending for a deep plot; come for the music, and leave dancing out of the aisles.
Million Dollar Quartet marks its debut at the Pittsburgh CLO as the company closes out its riveting summer season. What this show offers is a fun night, filled with dozens of classic hits sung by aptly casted actors. It doesn't matter if you were born of the generation that made these songs chart toppers or if you first heard these songs on a television commercial; the energy is palpable. As the dancing lady beside me told me, 'Unlike the songs today, you can understand every word.'
To see or not to see score: 6/9; Moderately Recommended Show
Photo Credit: Matt Polk