Great Balls of Fire: “Million Dollar Quartet” Has DPAC Rocking and Rolling Like It’s December 1956
The toe-tapping, finger-snapping national tour of Million Dollar Quartet roared into the Durham Performing Arts Center on Tuesday night, which was the 56th anniversary of the historic Dec. 4, 1956 jam session featuring four past, present, and future Sun Records artists: “King of Rock and Roll” Elvis Presley (1935-77), “The Killer” Jerry Lee Lewis (born 1935), country music legend Johnny Cash (1932-2003), and rockabilly king Carl Perkins (1932-98).
Messrs. Presley, Lewis, Cash, and Perkins probably constituted the first-ever super-group of the rock-and-roll era. Labeled the “Million Dollar Quartet” by their producer Sam Phillips, this fabulous foursome of rock pioneers were commencing careers that would land them all in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, OH. The Tony Award®-winning 2006 Broadway hit that commemorates that quartet’s one and only fourway jam session, Million Dollar Quartet captures the raw talent and irrepressible high spirits of four guys at the dawn of their careers when their distinctive brands of shake, rattle, and roll had just started to rocket up Top 40 playlists.
Dec. 4, 1956 was nominally a recording session for Carl Perkins, who hadn’t had a hit since “Blue Suede Shoes” topped the charts in January 1956; but Million Dollar Quartet is a splendid showcase for the burgeoning talents of its four musical super novas, plus their hard-rocking rhythm section of Carl Perkins’ brother Jay on stand-up bass (Corey Kaiser) and session drummer Fluke (Billy Shaffer) who pounded out a backbeat as the Million Dollar Quartet slickly segued from rock to gospel to country and back again.
Robert Britton Lyons is a pistol as Fifties guitar god Carl Perkins, who arrives at Sun Studios with a snoot-full of alcohol and a humongous chip on his shoulder. But gradually Carl loosens up and livens up the jam session with scorching solos on his fuzz tone guitar.
David Elkins, who plays Johnny Cash, can hit all the low notes while giving intimations of the Man in Black persona that Cash would eventually adopt, as a crossover artist with records simultaneously climbing the pop, rock, and country charts.
Martin Kaye is a pip — and a real scene-stealer — as floppy-haired piano prodigy Jerry Lee Lewis, whose desire to be the straw that stirs the drink in every situation really chaps Carl Perkins’ butt. But Perkins’ animosity changes to grudging admiration as the kid demonstrates his mastery of the piano.
Cody Slaughter, whom Elvis Presley Enterprises named the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist of 2011, adds another laurel to his crown as one of the nation’s premier Elvis impersonators, complete with Elvis’ trademark sneer, windmilling of his arm and swivel of his hips.
The impish impersonations of Messrs. Lyons, Elkins, Kaye, and Slaughter as Messrs. Perkins, Cash, Lewis, and Presley, respectively, are spot on; and Tuesday night the audience reacted to the Million Dollar Quartet’s was a fervent standing ovation that spurred the fellows on through 19 sizzling songs, plus four increasingly energetic encores.
Kelly Lamont, who plays Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne, more than holds her own as a sultry chanteuse who can belt out “Fever” with the best of them; and Vince Nappo is a real charmer as he provides comic commentary as the show’s narrator while he plays Sun Studios and Sun Records head honcho Sam Phillips, who helped the four small-town Southern boys develop the distinctive sounds that made them chart-toppers.
Although short on biographical detail and with a whisper-thin dramatic arc, Million Dollar Quartet is a rollicking musical revue, superbly staged by director Eric D. Schaeffer on a splendid set by Derek McLane. It will delight Baby Boomers and their kids and grandkids. DPAC patrons will get more — much more — than their money’s-worth with this hard-rocking jukebox musical. Indeed, they can close their eyes, and it is December 1956 all over again.
SECOND OPINION: Dec. 5th Durham, NC Herald-Sun review by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/21028873/article-REVIEW–A-rollicking-‘Million-Dollar’-show? and Nov. 29th preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/20966318/article-‘Million-Dollar-Quartet’-opens-Tuesday-at-DPAC? (Note 1: You must register to read these articles); Dec. 5th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/2012/12/05/2526483/review-much-music-but-scant-drama.html; and Dec 4th Raleigh, NC BroadwayWorld.com Raleigh interview with David Elkins, conducted by Larissa Mount: http://raleigh.broadwayworld.com/article/BWW-Interviews-Talking-with-David-Elkins-MILLION-DOLLAR-QUARTETs-Johnny-Cash-20121204. (Note 2: To read Triangle Arts & Entertainment’s online version of the Dec. 4th Triangle Theater Review preview by Robert W. McDowell, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/2012/12/million-dollar-quartet-of-messrs-presley-lewis-perkins-and-cash-will-jam-again-dec-4-9-at-DPAC/.)
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at 8 p.m. Dec. 7, 2 and 8 p.m. Dec. 8, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at DPAC, in the American Tobacco District, at 123 Vivian St., Durham, North Carolina 27701.
TICKETS: $37.50-$105.50 (including fees), except $17.50 Student Rush Tickets (plus service fee if purchased online), located on Row P of the Balcony.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1551057.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.milliondollarquartetlive.com/tour-videos.html.
Million Dollar Quartet (the group): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Million_Dollar_Quartet (Wikipedia).
Million Dollar Quartet (the musical): http://www.milliondollarquartetlive.com/ (official Broadway website), http://www.milliondollarquartet.co.uk/ (official London website), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Million_Dollar_Quartet_(musical) (Wikipedia), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=485498 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.lortel.org/ (Off-Internet Broadway Database).
The Tour: http://www.milliondollarquartetlive.com/tour.html (official website).
Tour Cast/Creative Team: http://www.milliondollarquartetlive.com/tour-creative.html (tour web page).
Eric D. Schaeffer: http://www.signature-theatre.org/artistic-director (Signature Theatre), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eric_D._Schaeffer (Wikipedia), and http://www.ibdb.com/person.php?id=16079 (Internet Broadway Database).
Robert W. McDowell is editor and publisher of Triangle Theater Review, a FREE weekly e-mail theatrical newsletter that provides more comprehensive, in-depth coverage of Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill theater than all of the other news media combined. This review is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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To read all of Robert W. McDowell’s Triangle Theater Review previews and reviews online at Triangle Arts & Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/robert-w-mcdowell/.