The national tour of the Tony Award®-winning Broadway hit Million Dollar Quartet, which will play Dec. 4-9 at the Durham Performing Arts Center, is a jukebox musical based upon an actual event: the Dec. 4, 1956 Sun Records recording session for rockabilly king Carl Perkins (1932-98) in Memphis, TN. The participation of three other rock-and-roll pioneers — the “King of Rock and Roll” Elvis Presley (1935-77), “The Killer” Jerry Lee Lewis (born 1935), and soon-to-be country music legend Johnny Cash (1932-2003) — earned this foursome the title of the “Million Dollar Quartet.” (Any comparable 21st century assemblage of musicians would no doubt be dubbed the “Gazillion Dollar Quartet.”)
Million Dollar Quartet takes place entirely during the epic recording session of Dec. 4, 1956, says director Eric D. Schaeffer. But, he adds, “We have taken a little theatrical license. We have taken events that happened over an 18-month period and pushed them all into one night, so that we could create a dramatic arc and flesh out the characters.”
Schaeffer says, “That night was actually a Carl Perkins recording session. Carl hadn’t had a hit in over a year, not since ‘Blue Suede Shoes.’ So, Sam Phillips hired Jerry Lee Lewis for the recording session, unbeknownst to Carl. Sam also called Johnny Cash, because Elvis Presley had called to say that he was in town and wanted to pop over and see Sam.
“One by one, they came into the studio,” says Schaeffer. “Carl was running late; but Jerry Lee was already there, ready to go…. Elvis brought a date named Dyanne, who was a singer on The Strip…. She’s still alive, and I think she’s living in Arizona.”
The co-founder and artistic director of the Signature Theatre of Arlington, VA, which won the 2009 Regional Theatre Tony Award, Eric Schaeffer notes that Dyanne got cropped out of the historic photograph of Messrs. Presley, Cash, Lewis, and Perkins, all gathered around the recording studio’s upright piano.”
He adds that “Million Dollar Quartet is performed all in one sitting. It’s an hour and 40 minutes long, with no intermission.”
Schaeffer says, “Some of the songs are iconic Jerry Lee, Carl, Johnny, and Elvis songs; and some of the songs are the songs that they sang that night. [Million Dollar Quartet features] a mixture of both. It is more like they were sitting around jamming.”
The Carl Perkins’ hits performed include “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Matchbox,” and “Who Do You Love?” The Jerry Lee Lewis hits include “Real Wild Child,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” The Johnny Cash hits include “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Sixteen Tons,” and “Riders in the Sky.” And the Elvis Presley hits include “Long Tall Sally,” “Peace in the Valley,” and “Hound Dog.”
“Even though it was a Carl Perkins session,” notes Eric Schaeffer, “they didn’t end up recording any Carl Perkins records that got released.” He adds, “Watching Million Dollar Quartet is like being a fly on the wall during a high-energy jam session with these four great icons.”
Conceived and originally directed by Floyd Mutrux, Million Dollar Quartet has a script co-written by Mutrux and Colin Escott. Originally presented in 2006 by the Seaside Music Theater of Daytona Beach, FL, the show was further developed and produced in the fall of 2007 at Village Theatre in the Seattle suburb of Issaquah, WA. Then, after a limited run at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, Million Dollar Quartet moved on Oct. 31, 2008 to Chicago’s Apollo Theater, where it is still playing.
Million Dollar Quartet made its Broadway debut, directed by Eric Schaeffer, on April 11, 2010 at the Nederlander Theatre, where it played 34 previews and 489 performances before closing on June 12, 2011. The show starred Eddie Clendening, Lance Guest, Levi Kreis, and Rob Lyons — all making their Broadway debuts — Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins, respectively. Hunter Foster and Elizabeth Stanley co-starred as Sun Records founder and record producer Sam Phillips and Elvis’ date Dyanne.
Nominated for three 2010 Tony Awards®, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Featured Actor in a Musical, Million Dollar Quartet won the Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical (Levi Kreis as Jerry Lee Lewis). The show was also nominated for the 2010 Drama Desk Award for Outstanding Musical Revue.
Million Dollar Quartet opened Off-Broadway on July 28, 2011 at New World Stages Stage IV, where it played through June 24, 2012.
“Everyone loves the show, because the music is so infectious,” claims Million Dollar Quartet director Eric Schaeffer, who co-directed the Chicago run of the show with Floyd Mutrux. After Mutrux left Million Dollar Quartet to work on Baby, It’s You and other projects, Schaeffer directed the Broadway, London, and tour runs of the show.
Schaeffer adds, “The audience ends up seeing a snapshot of these four great iconic figures at the beginning of their careers. We all know how they ended up, but we don’t know how they started.”
The cast of the current Million Dollar Quartet tour, which started in October 2011 in Cleveland, OH, includes Cody Slaughter as Elvis Presley, David Elkins as Johnny Cash, Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis, and Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins, plus Vince Nappo as Sam Phillips, Kelly Lamont as Dyanne, Corey Kaiser as bass player Jay Perkins, and Billy Shaffer as Fluke the drummer. Understudies include Katie Barton (Dyanne), Austin Cook (Jerry Lee Lewis), Scott Moreau (Johnny Cash and Sam Phillips), John Michael Presney (Carl Perkins and assistant stage manager), David Sonneborn (Fluke and Jay Perkins ), and Billy Woodward (Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash).
Director Eric Schaeffer notes, “Everyone is playing their own instruments and singing and acting. It’s not the easiest show to cast; but who we end up getting for these roles are really fantastic folks” also at the dawn of their careers.
Producers for the current national tour of Million Dollar Quartet include Relevent Theatricals, John Cossette Productions, American Pop Anthology (producers Floyd and Birgitte Mutrux), Broadway Across America, and James L. Nederlander. In addition to director Eric Schaeffer, the show’s creative team includes associate director David Ruttura, scenic designer Derek McLane, lighting designer Howell Binkley, costume designer Jane Greenwood, hair and wig designer Tom Watson, sound designer Kai Harada, music contractor Michael Keller, production stage manager David Lober, and stage manager Michael Krug. The show also features musical arrangements and supervision by Chuck Mead.
“Everyone comes to Million Dollar Quartet, expecting a great night of music,” says Eric Schaeffer. “But they also get a great story about Sam Phillips and these four iconic men of rock and roll.”
SECOND OPINION: Nov. 29th Durham, NC Herald-Sun preview by Dawn Baumgartner Vaughan: http://www.heraldsun.com/view/full_story/20966318/article-‘Million-Dollar-Quartet’-opens-Tuesday-at-DPAC? (Note: You must register to read this article).
The Durham Performing Arts Center presents MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 4-6, 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, NC 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.
DPAC Box Office: 919-680-ARTS (2787), email@example.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/how_to_buy_tickets.
Ticketmaster: 800-745-3000 or http://www.ticketmaster.com/venueartist/115558/1551057.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919/281-0587, Groups@DPACnc.com, or http://www.dpacnc.com/events/group_services.
VIDEO PREVIEW: http://www.milliondollarquartetlive.com/tour-videos.html.
STUDY GUIDE: http://www.milliondollarquartetlive.com/tour-study-guide.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).
Elvis Presley: http://www.elvis.com/ (Elvis Presley Enterprises), http://www.elvisthemusic.com/us/home (Sony Music Entertainment), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elvis_Presley (Wikipedia).
Jerry Lee Lewis: http://www.jerryleelewis.com/ (official website) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Lee_Lewis (Wikipedia).
Carl Perkins: http://www.rockabillyhall.com/CarlPerkins.html (Rockabilly Hall of Fame) and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Perkins (Wikipedia).
Johnny Cash: http://www.johnnycash.com/ (official website), http://www.johnnycashonline.com/ (Sony Music Entertainment), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Johnny_Cash (Wikipedia).
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 preview is reprinted with permission from Triangle Theater Review.
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