There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on in the Kennedy Theatre, in Raleigh’s Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, as Theatre Raleigh concludes its 2016 Hot Summer Nights Series with a rousing rendition of Million Dollar Quartet. “Million dollar quartet” is a gross (pun intended) understatement of the monies made by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins; but the point is made by this show, which dramatizes the one and only time all four Rock and Roll mega-stars performed together — in a recording studio — with no audience. The script by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux gives us the chance to be that nonexistent audience.
Theatre Raleigh guest director Tim Seib has put together ann impressive array talent to represent the characters involved: the four stars, plus a drummer, a stand-up bass player, the female vocalist who accompanies Presley, and Sam Phillips, the proprietor of Sun Records. And they are about as rowdy and capricious as you might expect this group to be when they had the freedom to just be themselves and enjoy the very strong bonds among them. Yet, every move and every line is executed precisely. The triple finale (ending with “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”) — which literally has the audience begging for more — is perfectly staged, and well worth the show.
The set, which represents the recording studio at Sun Records in Memphis in 1956, has the feeling of authenticity. It includes a small side alley door tucked into the left stage area. Gold albums hang on walls; instruments await use; the glass window into the technician’s room plunk in the middle. Scenic designer Chris Bernier deserves a special round of applause for this wonder.
Music director Jon Rossi, who also plays Fluke, the drummer, masterfully recreates the styles of the luminaries thrillingly. Anyone who has ever heard Messrs. Presley, Lewis, Cash, and Perkins immediately recalls fond memories from the 1950s and 1960s.
LeGrande Smith designed costumes for this musical extravaganza, and they were stylized perfectly for each of the characters.
“The King,” Elvis Presley, is captured in essence by Joe Boover, who harkens strongly of the famous talent, especially with his hip movement that generated the nickname “Elvis the Pelvis.” Ted S. Bushman brings “The Man in Black,” Johnny Cash, to life with his resonant baritone voice and careful emulation of Cash’s vocal stylings. Those of us who heard Cash way back then were touched by the truth of Bushman’s characterization, which also stirred old memories.
“The Killer,” Jerry Lee Lewis, is nailed by Ian Fairlee, who makes the very words “Great Balls of Fire” take on life. He also plays piano with hands, fingers, feet and bum, just like the original.
Michael Kennedy as Carl Perkins, “The Father of Rockabilly,” plays an amazing guitar, and helps remind us that “Blue Suede Shoes” is his creation, even though Presley also won great acclaim for his version. Kennedy acquits himself well as the famous singer-songwriter whose integrity probably kept him from greater riches, by not letting him move into the various other genres that grew out of early rock and roll.
Sam Phillips, owner and promoter of Sun Records, is portrayed as a thoughtful man, deeply committed to music and the talent he found to make that music. David McClutchey captures the sensitivity and deep devotion that Phillips brought to his missions in life.
Jason William Steffen, as Jay Perkins, does everything with a bass fiddle but make love to it, although once it appears that’s his aim. He cavorts and dances, and tosses his bass around all the while just playing the hell out of it.
Dyanne, Elvis’ lady friend and torch singer, is charmingly portrayed by Taylor Kraft. She belts out “Fever” and “I Hear You Knockin'” with lust and control, adding needed female presence.
These classics of American musical history bring back memories of days from a half century and more ago, reminding us of these four rock-and-roll legends’ contributions to the 20th century popular music. Don’t miss it!
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 18th Raleigh, NC News & Observer review by Roy C. Dicks: http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article96394472.html.
Theatre Raleigh presents MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at 8 p.m. Aug. 19, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 20, 3 p.m. Aug. 21, 8 p.m. Aug. 24-26, 2 and 8 p.m. Aug. 27, and 3 p.m. Aug. 28 in the Sara Lynn and K.D. Kennedy, Jr. Theatre in the Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, 2 E. South St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27601.
TICKETS: $32.50 ($30.50 students, seniors 65+, and active-duty military personnel).
BOX OFFICE: https://theatreraleigh.secure.force.com/ticket.
GROUP RATES (10+ tickets): 919-832-9997 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
PRESENTER: http://www.theatreraleigh.com/, https://www.facebook.com/pages/Theatre-Raleigh/349124511834045, and https://twitter.com/TheatreRaleigh.
Million Dollar Quartet (the group): http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Million_Dollar_Quartet (Wikipedia).
Million Dollar Quartet (2006 Florida, 2007 Washington, 2008 Chicago, 2010 Broadway, 2011 West End, and 2011 Off-Broadway musical): http://www.milliondollarquartetlive.com/ (official website), http://www.ibdb.com/show.php?id=485498 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/Production/5268 (Off-Internet Broadway Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Million_Dollar_Quartet_(musical) (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: http://milliondollarquartetlive.com/img/P5618_DSE_SGE_MDQStudyGuide_8p5x11_4C_Preview.pdf (original Broadway production).
Floyd Mutrux (co-author, original concept, and direction): http://www.milliondollartour.net/creative.asp (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/485504 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/40549 (Off-Internet Broadway Database), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Floyd_Mutrux (Wikipedia).
Colin Escott (co-author): http://www.milliondollartour.net/creative.asp (tour bio), http://www.ibdb.com/Person/View/485503 (Internet Broadway Database), and http://www.lortel.org/Archives/CreditableEntity/40548 (Off-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).
Tim Seib (Theatre Raleigh guest director): http://www.timseib.com/ (official website).
Martha Keravuori is a life-long theater artist — an actress, director, and stage manager — in North Carolina, around the country, and overseas. She has a theater degree from UNC-Greensboro, and has been active in the arts in Raleigh for the past 40 years. Martha is the retired executive director of the North Carolina Theatre Conference. Chuck Galle returned to Raleigh last year after a 17-year absence. He was active in community theater for many years, and directed the troupe of maximum-security inmates at Raleigh’s Central Prison known as the Central Prison Players. In New England, he performed on stage, on TV, and in films. He is the author of Stories I Never Told My Daughter — An Odyssey, which can be ordered on his website: http://www.chuckgalle.com/. Chuck Galle and Martha Keravuori review theater for Boom! Magazine of Cary. Click here to read more of their reviews for Boom! Magazine and here to read more of their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.