San Diego, CA—When an old coot like yours truly is tapping her toes to “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Memories Are Made of This”, “Fever”, “Hound Dog”, “Great Balls Of Fire. “Down By The Riverside”, “Sixteen Tons”, “Peace in the Valley” and “I Hear You Knocking” just to name a few of those bygone favorites you know there is something to “Million Dollar Quartet” now livening the stage of the Civic Theatre through Dec. 8th.
It was one of those once in a lifetime happenings that brought Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins together at the Sun Record recording studio in Memphis one night in Dec. the 4th to be exact, 1956. It was 57 years ago to the date that I saw this Tony Award winning “Million Dollar Quartet”. It is the subject and the object of Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux (Book) work. Eric Schaffer directs.
It seems that Perkins (James Barry)who wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” and was recorded under the Sun label, was looking for some help from Sun owner Sam Phillips (Vince Nappo) to get his latest, revamped “Matchbook” cut. He arrived at the studio with his brother Jay (Corey Kaiser who plays a hot Bass) and drummer Fluke (Patrick Morrow) when they ran into up and comer Jerry Lee Lewis (John Countryman) on the piano, whom Phillip’s brought in to accompany Perkins in the session.
That whole meeting between Lewis and Perkins did not go down well and the two were at each other (professionally, at least throughout the jam session according to the creators of the show.)
“Million Dollar Quartet” that ran on Broadway for a year came by it’s name slightly by accident when the local newspaper the Memphis Star Press entertainment editor published the event under the heading “Million Dollar Quartet” that also included a photo of the four with Elvis at the piano and the others around him.
All four musicians got their start at Sun Records but by the time this event happened, Presley was recording with RCA after Phillips sold his contract to keep Sun recordings alive and Cash was about to break with Sun and go with Columbia; these are the facts as Phillips interjects throughout.
It seems that Cash stopped by that day to collect some money and inform Phillips of his defection but after finding the rest of his buddies already engaged he was coaxed to join in.
Oh, to be a fly on the wall to have actually have been there at the time, however we might have been disappointed since according to Cash, in his autobiography Cash, was at the studio before Presley and no where on the original recordings of the session was his voice heard.
That’s what show biz is all about and to make this show work we are taken on an adventure, fiction as it may be, through the eyes of the creators to bring back an event that made history and to give us a glimpse into these four personalities that we might otherwise have not known. Nonetheless, the show is entertaining, to say the least and informative enough to do a little exploring after the facts.
All four musicians (and it was announced that all on stage were doing their own finger work as well as singing and acting and it showed) fit the characters they inhabit oft times looking and of course acting as they were known to have behaved especially Cody Slaughter and Scott Moreau as Presley and Cash.
Both men capture the essence and overall core making their characters more real to life, Slaughter with his slick leg moves and gyrations and perfect period clothes (Jane Greenwood) and Moreau with a dream voice to die for. His guitar playing is nothing short of stunning (“I Walk the Line”) and pretty fancy a la Cash.
While Countryman’s look is pretty much cartoonish and nothing resembling Lewis, he plays a mean keyboard and, for the most part brings an explosive excitement to the show. James Barry’s Perkins is in fine voice and a great impersonator of Perkins style but the lest thrilling with much less to say than any of the others. That takes nothing away from his talent as a musician, however.
Perkins “Blue Suede Shoes” reached number two on the pop and country charts in 1956. After Presley recorded and it became his third top forty hit and pretty much took the thunder out of Perkins rise to fame although he did continue to write. Known as the Rockabilly Pioneer his mastery reached far and wide, even to his surprise, influencing the Beatles.
The show lasts almost two hours and might have been better served if there was less talk by Phillips and more jamming by the musicians and that would have included the Bass and Drummer, who was never introduced. But be prepared for an all out, star spangled finale that, aside from all the nostalgia before hand brings Broadway and Hollywood together and will keep you on your toes.
It’s a fun look back and a treat for those of us who remember.
See you at the theatre.
Dates: Through Dec. 8th
Organization: Broadway San Diego
Production Type: Jukebox Musical
Where: 3rd & B Street Downtown, San Diego
Ticket Prices: $25.00-$125.00
Venue: Civic Theatre