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Million Dollar Quartet – Broadway Musical Review

 

THE FIRST FAB FOUR

 

picture - Million Dollar Quartet - Broadway Musical - photo by Joan MarcusTheater Review

by Sarah Baram

published April 25, 2010

 

Million Dollar Quartet

now playing on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre

 

It was the jam session that only fate could have foreseen on a cold night in December of 1956. They were the four rock legends of their time. Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, all within the walls of Sam Phillip’s Sun Records studio walls for one night. From that night would spawn the name of Broadway’s new hit show: Million Dollar Quartet.

 

While sitting in the Nederlander Theater waiting for the curtain to rise and the show to begin, a vibrant buzz of energy surged amongst the audience. It was an audience favoring the older demographic, and lacking the usual twenty-somethings that generally frequent the New York City nightlife. Bartenders floated through the aisle with expensive wine in cheap sippy cups reading Million Dollar Quartet. As those who caved in to the bartender’s expensive menu sipped on their beverages, all the expected questions arose: “Have you heard if this is any good?” “What songs do you think they will play?”

 

picture - Million Dollar Quartet - Broadway Musical - photo by Joan MarcusOn the surface, the idea is nothing new. Million Dollar Quartet is the story of four Southern boys who came from nothing and made good in the music industry, accompanied by the underdog of all record labels. They stormed on to the music scene, swayed their hips, sang a few risqué lyrics and changed the course of an art within itself.

 

It was clear the actors had been slowly marinated in the historical happenings of that night. Their actions were swift and their words rolled off their tongues with such a sense of ease that you might just think they were the real thing.

 

Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins came to the stage full of spunk in his Broadway debut. Any audience member could relay to you the passion he had obtained for the role, with his short patience, seriousness, and interjection of the occasional joke. His interactions with Levi Kreiss as Jerry Lee Lewis were reliably entertaining. The two bickered like young school children in grown men's bodies.

 

picture - Million Dollar Quartet - Broadway MusicalThe most anticipated performance hailed from Eddie Clendening as none other than Elvis Presley. He came to the stage with an innocent presence, one that you would not normally expect from Elvis, but which seemed to fit so well. He moved with such ease that one can only guess how many hours he spent in front of his bedroom mirror practicing the legendary shakes and twists. 

 

Ah, and you cannot forget the woman who accompanied Elvis Presley, Dyanne. The well-versed Elizabeth Stanley brought an immediate air of seduction to the stage, even molesting the microphone stand during her well deserved solo performance. Any heterosexual men who were not left with their mouths dribbling after that number should have their pulses checked.

 

One can also not forget the performance of Levi Kreiss as Jerry Lee Lewis. He easily stole the show with his narcissistic outbursts and awkward antics. His movements were worth watching throughout the whole show and his piano playing abilities were truly impressive.

 

As with everything, nothing is ever perfect. Hunter Foster as Sam Phillips and Lance Guest as Johnny Cash led drab performances. While Foster was at times too overly dramatic and over-rehearsed, Lance Guest was so quiet that the lines he mumbled could barely be understood, killing his presence within the show.   (Was he trying to make a point to the audience that he was hardly there? It is true, after all, that he cannot be heard on the recordings of that iconic jam session.)

 

picture - Million Dollar Quartet - Broadway Musical - photo by Joan MarcusSPOILER ALERT REGARDING THE ENDING. You might say there were two endings, actually. First the stage was bare except for the dimly lit Sam Phillips, alone with the infamous picture of all his boys at the piano. Then, as he stepped aside, four gaudy jackets dropped from the rafters, each one waiting for a quartet member.   The toned-down ending got blasted away by an all too enthusiastic attempt at a live concert.  Although the acrobatics were impressive, it was an overall failed attempt.

 

Those disappointments aside, if you are looking for a great show for your night out on the town, this is the one to see. With an inviting score filled with hits that beg the audience to sing along, you will leave mesmerized by the iconic tunes that once infected jukeboxes and have since become slightly haunting.

 

sarahbaram @ stageandcinema.com

 

photos by Joan Marcus

 

 
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