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Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at STAGES St. Louis is Rollicking Rock 'n Roll Fun

Catch the STAGES St. Louis Production of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at The Kirkwood Performing Arts Center though October 8th

By: Sep. 14, 2023
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Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, a National Historic Landmark, was founded by record producer Sam Phillips in the early 1950s. Phillips was instrumental in the development of rock ‘n roll and the careers of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and more. Music historians credit Phillips with recording the first rock ‘n roll song in 1951. Sun Studio is where Elvis recorded his version of “That’s All Right (Mama)” in 1954. It became hit in Memphis and, later, throughout the southern United States. That recording launched Elvis’ career and put Sun Studio and Sun Records on the map.

On the evening of December 4, 1956, the single room recording studio was being used by Carl Perkins and his band to record new music. Phillips had invited a new artist he discovered, the yet to be known Jerry Lee Lewis, to play piano on Perkin’s recordings. Over the course of that evening, Elvis Presley happened by the studio for a casual visit with Phillips. Elvis was accompanied by his current girlfriend. At some point during the evening Johnny Cash also arrived at Sun Studio to listen to Carl Perkins’ recording session. Presley, Cash, Perkins and Lewis broke into an impromptu jam session which Sam Phillips recorded without the knowledge of the four artists. Phillips tipped off a reporter from a local newspaper and the following day an article was published about the impromptu jazz session and was headlined “Million Dollar Quartet.” 

MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is the story of that unlikely and auspicious evening at Sun Studio where four music legends cajoled, bantered and jammed. STAGES St. Louis has resurrected the spirits of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis in a dazzling, high energy, and flashy production of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET. This show is musical theatre perfection from top to bottom. The performances are spectacular. The musicianship is masterful. The vocals are sensational. The technical theatre work is otherworldly. The entire cast, crew, and design team have assembled a production that is in a class by itself. STAGES St. Louis has the Kirkwood Performing Arts Center (KPAC) rockin’!

Director and Choreographer Keith Andrews focuses this production on the story of Sam Phillips and the early history of Sun Studio. He wisely leans on the performance of Jeff Cummings who plays the Sun Studio and Sun Records founder. Andrews’ directorial vision layers emotion into this production, acknowledging that the story of Million Dollar Quartet is about more than just the music. This is a show about the work of Sam Phillips, the father of rock ‘n roll. Cummings is perfectly cast and is magnificent as Phillips. He narrates the story of a hardworking genius with the vision to identify young artists with unique and immense talent. Cummings beams with pride as he describes how Phillips nurtured the talent of those who would become music giants. He conveys Phillip’s painful angst as he recognizes he cannot compete with the massive music machines of RCA and Columbia. Cummings allows the audience to feel Phillip’s heartache as he watches the fruits of his labor walk away. Stages St. Louis’ production of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is compelling because of Cummings’ performance as Sam Phillips and his portrayal cannot be overlooked.

Then, there are the four actors who bring the trifecta of acting, musicianship and vocal performance to each of their roles as Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Each actor completely vanishes into their character and flawlessly embodies the spirit of musical royalty. Jeremy Sevelovitz (Carl Perkins), Scott Moreau (Johnny Cash), Brady Wease (Jerry Lee Lewis), and Edward La Cardo (Elvis Presley) channel their alter-egos and deliver performances that transcend excellence. The music may bring the audience to see the show, but it is the nuanced and textured performances of the actors that turn this production into musical theatre magnificence.

Jeremy Sevelovitz’s portrayal as Perkins is astounding and his vocals are spectacular. He is an extraordinary instrumentalist. His character’s annoyance and banter with Jerry Lee Lewis is hilariously believable thanks to Sevelovitz comedic timing and delivery. He elevates the lesser-known artist’s contributions to rock ‘n roll so the audience can fully grasp Carl Perkin’s artistic impact. Whether he is singing lead, playing guitar or singing background vocals, he is the best among a cast of brilliantly talented actors, musicians and singers who deliver definitive and wonderful performances.

Brady Wease’s exuberance as the young Jerry Lee Lewis is infectious and energetic. His boldly overconfident portrayal fully captures the flamboyance of Jerry Lee Lewis. From the moment he bolts onto the stage Wease adds immense joy to this production. He perfectly inhabits the youthful enthusiasm of an artist who has just been discovered. Wease tears down the house with his piano playing and vocal performances of “Real Wild Child,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’.” The opening night audience was so enthralled with Wease’s performance that they showed their appreciation with chants of “Jerry” just before he tore into “Whole Lotta Shakin’.”

Scott Moreau (Johnny Cash) and Edward La Cardo (Elvis) are perfectly cast as Cash and Elvis. They look and sound similar to the music icons. Their physical acting and impersonations are spot-on. Moreau’s deep and resonant baritone/bass voice lushly envelops the lyrics of some of Cash’s biggest hits. While Moreau’s delivery of Cash’s music is phenomenal, it is his acting that gives his character vulnerability and humanity. La Cardo channels all the sex appeal of the King of Rock ‘n Roll. His vocals are great, and he delivers his dialogue with same speech intonation of young Elvis, but it is his stage presence and dancing that gives the performance its authenticity.

The cast is rounded out by Shelby Ringdahl (Dyanne) who plays Elvis’ girlfriend, bassist Chuck Zayas (Jay Perkins) and drummer David Sonneborn (W.S. “Fluke” Holland.) Ringdahl has two standout solos. She delivers a sultry performance of “Fever” and shreds the vocals on “I Hear you Knockin’,” blowing the roof off of the KPAC. Zayas and Sonneborn are credited as characters in the cast, but they are there primarily there to fill out the band with stand-up bass and percussion. Both are talented musicians and Zayas has some really special moments that shows his enormous skill as a bassist.

The collaboration of the technical Crew at STAGES St. Louis thoroughly enhances this production with their elegant design work. Set Designer Adam Koch’s layered proscenium of acoustic panels fully captures the intimacy of the tiny Sun Studio. I’ve toured Sun Studio twice and it is like he simply tore the front wall away giving the audience a glimpse inside Sam Phillips music making haven. Sean M. Savoie perfectly compliments the set with his syncopated, rock ‘n roll lighting design. The layered proscenium is framed and bathed in flashing hues of cobalt, copper, gold, pink, purple, green and teal. Savoie’s colorful lighting and Brad Musgrove’s detailed costume design make this production an ocular feast. Musgrove pays attention to every little detail right down to Elvis’ cool black and white leather loafers.

STAGES St. Louis production of Million Dollar Quartet is visually stunning and rollicking musical fun. Director Keith Andrews collaboration with his actors and technical team have created a memorable production. The technical team gave Andrews and his cast an exquisite palate to tell Sam Phillips’ tale, and Andrews has elicited incredible performances from his cast to tell the story. Tickets for this production of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTED are going to be scare once word gets out about this elaborate and thoroughly entertaining production.

Click the ticket link below for more information about STAGES St. Louis marvelous Production of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET.


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