Bass Hall, Fort Worth
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Scenic Design by Derek McLane
Costume Design by Jane Greenwood
Lighting Design by Howell Binkley
Sound Design by Kai Harada
David Elkins - Johnny Cash (Vocals, Guitar)
Cody Slaughter - Elvis Presley (Vocals, Guitar)
Ben Goddard - Jerry Lee Lewis (Vocals, Piano)
James Barry - Carl Perkins (Vocals, Guitar)
Vince Nappo - Sam Phillips
Kelly Lamont - Dyanne (Vocals)
Corey Kaiser - Jay Perkins (Bass)
Billy Shaffer - Fluke (Drums)
Reviewed Performance 3/5/2013
Reviewed by LK Fletcher, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
On two occasions as a child, my grandparents made the statement that "life would never be the same". The first time was when Nixon resigned in 1974. The second was when Elvis died in 1977. Apparently, based on those two statements, my grandparents understood that rock & roll and history are defining markers for our lives as Americans. Moments that define a nation reflect our own personal defining moments. The jukebox musical, "Million Dollar Quartet", also defines a magical moment in rock & roll and history.
Million Dollar Quartet is a jukebox musical inspired by the electrifying true story of the famed impromptu recording session that brought together rock n' roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins on December 4th, 1956. The Tony Award-winning Broadway musical dramatizes the session as narrated by Sam Phillips, the "Father of Rock n' Roll", at Sun Records in Memphis. The four pioneers of rock and roll recorded one of the greatest jam sessions of all time. Million Dollar Quartet is a musical snapshot of the music of that session and the recollections and commentary of Phillips.
Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, under the genius of Sam Phillips, changed American pop culture. Sam was a visionary and opened a new form of music. While growing up, Phillips was exposed to the blues and became a fan of African-American music which he heard from workers on his father's cotton farm. Later, as a DJ at a local radio station, his "open format" of broadcasting music from both white and black musicians set a precedent for diversity, acceptance and eventually for rock & roll. Phillips vision was clear, "Everyone knew that I was just a struggling cat down here trying to develop new and different artists, and get some freedom in music, and tap some resources and people that weren't being tapped." And he did. Sun Records produced more rock & roll records than any other record label of its time during its sixteen year run, producing 226 singles. And it all began with the Million Dollar Quartet.
Floyd Mutrux, who co-authored the musical, along with Colin Escott, is very much a historian of the culture as an actor, director and producer. The narrative Sam Phillips brings to the script, while prolific, is also reflective, concise and enlightening.
Million Dollar Quartet (see www.milliondollarquartetlive.com) premiered at Seaside Music Theatre in Daytona Beach, Florida and was then staged at the Village Theatre in the Seattle, Washington area in 2007, breaking box office records. Million Dollar Quartet opened for a limited run at Chicago's Goodman Theatre on September 27th, 2008. Eric D. Schaeffer, of Virginia's Signature Theatre, co-directed the Chicago production with Floyd Mutrux.
The Broadway production opened at the Nederlander Theatre on April 11th, 2010. The Broadway production closed on June 12th , 2011 after 489 performances and 34 previews, and then re-opened Off-Broadway at New World Stages, the home of other Broadway musical hits such as Avenue Q and Rent. Million Dollar Quartet opened in London's West End at the Noel Coward Theatre in February, 2011. Tours are scheduled through May.
A critically acclaimed hit, the production has had a life of its own. It won a Tony Award for Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical and received a Tony Award nomination for Best Musical and Best Book of a Musical for Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux. The show received an Outer Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical, a Drama Desk nomination for Outstanding Musical Revue and three Drama League nominations including Distinguished Production of a Musical and Distinguished Performance. The critics all love Million Dollar Quartet. New York Magazine calls it, "A dazzling raucous spectacle that sounds like a million bucks".
"Elvis, son, I don't record singers, I record souls. I can tell without askin' you're up from Mississippi. I can tell you and your folks are good people, but you ain't never had nothing. I can tell the other kids looked down on you. Look me in the eye boy - can you play that git-tar and let me hear some a`THAT? I wanna hear your soul boy."- Sam Phillips
On a cold December night in1956, Carl Perkins booked a recording session with producer, Sam Phillips. Perkins and his band, along with an exuberant Jerry Lee Lewis, laid down some songs, including "Matchbox." Perkins and Lewis were later joined by Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, and they held an impromptu jam session. A newspaper man who was there wrote, "This quartet could sell a million." Soon they were dubbed the Million Dollar Quartet.
The production is a personal invitation to return to that night in the recording studio with a bit of narrative. The setting and Sun Studio set never changes. The fixed set works well for a live session feel, as well as for an interior of the work space. There is no curtain, no scene change and no need for either. Graphic detail, an assortment of projected images and other surprise elements added visual interest and period style without complicating the straightforward staging of the scenes and production numbers.
Talented cast members include David Elkins as Johnny Cash, Cody Slaughter as Elvis Presley, Ben Goddard as Jerry Lee Lewis and James Barry as Carl Perkins, and Vince Nappo as the "Father of Rock 'n' Roll," Sam Phillips. The cast also features Kelly Lamont as Dyanne, and musicians Billy Shaffer (Fluke, drums), and Corey Kaiser (Jay Perkins, bass) who brought a tremendous energy and charisma to the production. Physical, musical and vocal casting was really exceptional. The show relies on the musical performances to tell the story, but it is not without some light-handed (a.k.a. heavily-scripted) one-liners, zingers and groaners. An example is Jerry Lee Lewis on loving many women at the same time, "The Lord said `love your neighbor' and I was just doing the best I could."
The most interesting element in this musical was the choice of tempo for so many of the pieces. The live recordings, as you can imagine, were wonderful in the uncluttered sense of discovery, as musicians listened and evolved into creating or recreating each new piece. Very little of that was present in the arrangements. Pieces exploded into a fully arranged, concert version with very little space for individual artistry. The result being that the distinct elements of each artist - even when that artist was singing the lead - tended to be overly subdued for a more polished group sound. The wonderful exception and the artistic highlights were the beautiful a cappella numbers. In a word, stunning.
When I rediscovered the original recordings, especially the Elvis and Johnny Cash ballads, they were decidedly different from the arrangements of the musical in orchestration, tempo and feel. This is absolutely artistic license, but less than authentic than some of the other elements of this particular production. On the other hand, the level of musicianship, the individual nuances, phrasing and even timbre of the singers was frequently stellar, particularly from Slaughter as Elvis and Elkins as Cash, who earned their million dollar moniker.
The show is by all means a showcase. The challenge in showcasing larger than life icons is to create characters not present impersonators.
The pacing and interaction between Sam Perkins (Nappo) and the boys was frequently playful, often reflective and consistently genuine. Nappo, who had the bulk of the dialogue and the narrative of the story, maintained a high energy, brisk pace while showing a lot of nuance as a manager who was both personally and professionally invested in his artists. Nappo commanded the story without upstaging the stars.
James Barry kicked off the jam with some really tasty licks on the guitar and a dry sense of humor that only slightly masked the personal loss and hits that impacted Carl Perkins in his career. It was really poignant to see Perkins sharing the studio and his celebrity with Elvis whose career was launched on Perkins song "Blue Suede'Shoes".
Elvis was at his very best in the person of impersonator Cody Slaughter. Slaughter, at least based on the audience reactions at Bass Hall, had all the persona, charisma and sex appeal of Mr. Presley. The women were wild, loud, and raucous - and that was just the grandmothers. Slaughter sold it, and he sold it well. Believably. It worked.
Ben Goddard never let the flame flicker. He was on. Goddard has a mercurial wit; brilliant comic timing and the man can play the piano. The original Jerry Lee Lewis is a hell raiser but Goddard is all that and a bag of chips. Mercy.
The costumes were authentic, right up to the final tableau. Kelly Lamont (Dyanne) was stunning in a fabulous pink dress whose curves highlighted all of hers. Lamont had an easy grace and sweet sensuality that made for great dynamics with Elvis and the all male cast. Her vocals were versatile and effective. From a sultry belt to a haunting descant in the a capella numbers Lamont was the icing on the cake.
The Sun Studio set was gracefully designed to accommodate the size of the stage, the intimate feel of the studio and the gymnastics of some of the production numbers. Interesting angles and levels supplemented by a seamless light design worked well to make the show, while static, visually appealing.
Instrumentally, set musicians Shaffer and Kaiser were authentic, and created a cohesive element in the rhythm section that was wonderfully adorned by the masterful playing of James Berry as Carl Perkins and the insanely exuberant styling of Ben Goddard as Jerry Lee Lewis. Goddard did an amazing job right side up and upside down making the piano bounce. It was rather like Rachmaninoff on crack - and all of it good. By the way, don't miss the curtain call. Oh. My. Word. Fabulous!
Bass Performance Hall is a lovely venue. Enjoy the comfortable seats, the elegant surroundings, and by all means, consider the Million Dollar Quartet Martini. Most of all, enjoy the indulgence of great music, energy and fun done exceptionally well. It is one of the few musicals you get to sing along with. Don't miss the opportunity.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Bass Performance Hall
4th and Calhoun, Fort Worth, TX 76102
VERY LIMITED run through March 10th
Wednesday/Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday/Saturday at 8:00 pm,
Sunday at 6:00 pm, Saturday matinee at 2:00 pm, and Sunday matinee at 1:00 pm.
Tickets range from $38.50-$99.00, depending on the performance and seating level.
For info and to purchase tickets, go to www.basshall.com call their box office at 1-817-212-4280 or 877-212-4280 toll-free.