Before the curtain even lifted, the crowd was captivated by the electrifying performance of Carl Perkins and his band, kicking off the show with the iconic “Blue Suede Shoes.” The stage was set to resemble the historic Sun Records studio in Memphis, where the legendary jam session of December 4, 1956, took place. But this stage adaptation, titled “The Million Dollar Quartet,” was about to give the audience a whole new experience, different from the true story that inspired it.
For Elvis Presley fans, the term “The Million Dollar Quartet” holds a special significance. It refers to the impromptu gathering of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash at the Sun Records studio. Recordings of this legendary jam session have been cherished by fans for decades, and now, a stage musical bearing the same name has taken the world by storm.
I first heard about the musical adaptation of “The Million Dollar Quartet” in a newspaper article back in 2008. It caught my attention, but it wasn’t until two years later that the musical gained traction, first in Chicago and then on Broadway. With its success, a national tour was launched, and when it arrived in Spokane, Washington, I couldn’t miss the opportunity to witness this iconic moment in Elvis Presley’s life.
As I settled into my seat at the INB Performing Arts Center, I had no idea how the 1956 Sun Records jam session had been transformed for the stage. The musical, categorized as a “jukebox musical,” featured popular songs from the era, but it quickly became apparent that this production would be more energetic and emotionally charged than the original session. The performers’ passion and vigor made for an incredibly entertaining show.
The musical opened with Carl Perkins performing, and the character of Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, took on the role of narrator. The story unfolded as Perkins arrived at the studio for a recording session, where Johnny Cash and eventually Elvis Presley joined him. The production introduced some fictional elements, such as Elvis’s companion, renamed Dyanne, who became an active participant in the musical numbers.
As the musical continued, the actors portraying Perkins, Lewis, Cash, and Presley took turns at the microphone, showcasing their individual talents and occasionally coming together for mesmerizing group harmonies. Dyanne, played by a talented actress, even had her own spotlight moments. In between the musical numbers, Sam Phillips injected some drama into the storyline, expressing his mixed emotions when Cash and Perkins decided to leave Sun Records. The portrayal of Elvis, wishing to return to the simplicity of recording at Sun, added a unique twist to the narrative.
However, the heart of “The Million Dollar Quartet” lies in its music. The producers compiled an incredible playlist featuring the best songs from the late ’50s and early ’60s. While only a few songs from the original jam session were included, the musical showcased the diverse talents of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins, appealing to fans of each artist.
The success of the musical greatly depended on the actors’ musicianship, and the national tour production that came to Spokane delivered a truly electrifying performance. James Barry, as Carl Perkins, showcased his phenomenal lead guitar skills, enriching each song with his instrumental intensity. Cody Slaughter embodied the essence of Elvis, capturing his looks and moves flawlessly. John Countryman may not have physically resembled Jerry Lee Lewis, but his piano skills were undeniably impressive. Scott Moreau portrayed Johnny Cash with his remarkable vocal abilities and mannerisms. Kelly LaMont, who originated the role of Dyanne, added a touch of experience to the cast, having been part of the touring company since its inception in 2011.
The energy and passion of the performers were so infectious that the entire audience was on their feet for the last five numbers of the show. The musical concluded with a rendition of Chuck Berry’s “Run, Run Rudolph,” a perfect addition to the Christmas season.
If you’re an Elvis fan or a lover of rock ‘n’ roll history, “The Million Dollar Quartet” is a must-see. It’s a thrilling step up from other jukebox musicals, as it celebrates the music of four rock ‘n’ roll legends. So, if the national tour comes to your town, don’t miss the opportunity to experience this rock ‘n’ roll extravaganza.
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