BWW Review: Drayton's MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Mirvish Drags Through the Hits
Most people love jukebox musicals. Seeing some of the greatest hits from legends like Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins performed live, creates a nostalgic experience that is undeniably entertaining. Unless you're not a fan of the jukebox style - and I should state that generally, I am not. Then for you, this type of show drags itself through a seemingly endless list of tunes with little to no emotional journey.
For the jukebox lovers, Drayton's MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is a fun night of rockin' hits. The newly named CAA Theatre (formerly the Panasonic) was full of people bopping up and down, wide grins filling their faces, as they recognized songs that brought them memories of dances, breakups or makeups - with songs like, I Walk the Line, Blue Suede Shoes, Great Balls of Fire and Hound Dog.
The story centres around the events of December 4, 1956 at Sun Records Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. On that day, history was made when Johnny Cash (Aaron Solomon), Elvis Presley (Matt Cage), Jerry Lee Lewis (Gerrad Everard) and Carl Perkins (Tyler Check) came together to play for the first and only time - becoming the "Million Dollar Quartet". Sam Phillips (J. Sean Elliott), the owner of Sun Records Studio, was responsible for birthing the careers of the four men - but he now faces a changing industry - and the fear of losing his artists to bigger labels.
My problem with the jukebox musical is that they are notoriously crammed full of songs and usually feature a plot that is neglected and weak. There are exceptions. Beautiful - The Carole King Musical does feature some songs solely for the sake of including them, but the story has weight to it, using her songbook to explode out of emotional moments and heighten them through the music - like a good musical should.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, unfortunately, does not have a single one of those moments. Most of the introductions to a new song include lines like, "John man, play that Walk the Line song!" without offering any reason for the song, other than playing another Johnny Cash hit.
Connecting a list of over twenty songs is a plot with stakes that hardly carry any weight. Why should we care if Phillips loses Johnny Cash to Columbia Records after he proudly announces that he was clever enough to buy stocks in Holiday Inn? Without a passionate story to really invest in, an intermission-less 100 minutes suddenly feels much, much longer.
But all of this pertains to the actual structure of the show. The performances - are fantastic. Save for a few moments (screeching female harmonies in the last few numbers), the music is tight and runs seamlessly. The performers are not only great impersonators, who sound, move and speak like their superstar counterparts, they are impressively talented, both vocally and instrumentally.
Solomon looks and sounds like Johnny Cash, comfortably droning in the lowest parts of the male voice to produce that signature, gravel-bass timbre that made Cash so famous. As Elvis, Cage swoons with some of the King's signature moves and croons with a voice that leans into just the right vocal pockets - he does a terrific job singing the role.
Check's powerful voice is a great match for Carl Perkins, flaunting his guitar skills in various solos throughout the show. As the much needed comedic relief, Everard amazes as he plays every single part of the piano as Jerry Lee Lewis. Practically vibrating with manic energy as the eccentric singer, Everard sang and played his way through the challenging repertoire - using nearly every part of his body to bang out his crazy piano solos.
If you're a fan of this music, you will have a thrilling time at MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET - just don't expect a story that will thrill as much as the music will.
Drayton Entertainment's MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is presented by Mirvish and runs through January 7, 2018 at the CAA Theatre (formerly the Panasonic), 651 Yonge Street, Toronto, ON
For more information and to purchase tickets, visit mirvish.com
photo credit: Company of MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET- Drayton Entertainment