BWW Reviews: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, Noel Coward Theatre, Feb 28 2011
"Goodness gracious - great balls of fire! Not another jukebox musical!" That may well be what many people will be screaming on hearing of the opening of Million Dollar Quartet at London's Noel Coward Theatre. But it would be a mistake to dismiss this show as "yet another" anything. Even for a jukebox sceptic like me, it's a hugely entertaining show.
Inspired by an actual event on 4 December 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis, Million Dollar Quartet recreates the event masterminded by Sun Records' founder Sam Phillips when legendary stars Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis performed together for the only time in their careers. Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux's book examines the friendship, jealousies and divided loyalties of the stars in a workmanlike fashion which has some nice touches of humour. Eric Shaeffer's direction manages to hold everything together tightly and allows the songs to emerge naturally as "performance" numbers which - - unlike in many other jukebox shows - never seem forced. And the songs are all Rock'n Roll, Blues or Country classics - including "Blue Suede Shoes", "Hound Dog", "I Walk The Line", "Sixteen Tons", etc.
But what makes the show a real treat is the collection of top-drawer performances from the eight-strong cast of actors/singers/musicians. Gez Gerrard and Adam Riley are both consummate musicians in the supporting "band"; Bill Ward exudes charismatic charm as Sam Phillips; Francesca Jackson adds a touch of class as Elvis's girlfriend, Dyanne - delivering a haunting and sultry vocal of "Fever" and taking the roof off the house with "I Hear You Knocking"; Derek Hagen's Johnny Cash makes everyone in the theatre believe the real Mr. Cash is on the stage; Robert Britton Lyons (who created the role of Carl Perkins on Broadway) makes a sensational acting and singing West End debut; Michael Malarkey wears the crown of The King with total credibility and demonstrates he has the vocals to match his considerable acting talents. But even in this outstanding company, Ben Goddard succeeds in stealing the show with a highly energised, aptly off-the-wall performance as Jerry Lee Lewis which proves he not only possesses great skills as an actor but is also a truly amazing pianist and a genuine vocal powerhouse.
To answer the bottom line questions - is it high art? No. Is it great fun? Hell, yes! Does it look like a show worthy of being a West End hit? I would say it looks like a million dollars.