‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is rock ‘n roll heaven

 

The National Touring Cast of “Million Dollar Quartet” performs “Down by the Riverside.” Photo by Jeremy Daniel

The National Touring Cast of “Million Dollar Quartet” performs “Down by the Riverside.” Photo by Jeremy Daniel

BOSTON — “Million Dollar Quartet” is much more than a jukebox musical.
Not that there’s anything wrong with a jukebox musical, when the jukebox is filled with ageless tunes such as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Long Tall Sally” and “Great Balls of Fire.”
“Million Dollar Quartet,” now at the Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre through Oct. 20, is a recounting of the true story of a Carl Perkins recording session that brought together four rock ‘n roll icons — Elvis Presley, Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash — on Dec. 4, 1956 in a recording studio in Memphis, Tenn.
All four got their start with Sun Records and its owner, Sam Phillips, the legendary “father of rock ‘n roll.” Phillips was famed for selling Presley’s contract to RCA for $40,000 in 1955 to ensure Sun’s survival, the music version of Red Sox owner Harry Frazee selling Babe Ruth to the Yankees for $100,000 in 1920.
The details of the recording session remain a bit up in the air to this day, although the sessions were eventually released in a series of recordings beginning in 1981.
Against that backdrop, book writers Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux have fashioned a story that imagines rivalries among the singers, decisions they made that Phillips took as betrayal, and other intrigue that help link together the score that includes 23 musical numbers.
The songs sung that night were a mash-up of several different genres, including rock, gospel, R&B and country, and there is something for everyone in the show, no matter what your taste.
I’ve been lucky enough to see two of the four icons portrayed perform live, and the actors do a fine job portraying both their characters and their musical styles and yes, they are all singing and playing their instruments.
Maine native Scott Moreau is spot-on as Johnny Cash, “The Man in Black,“ taking those bass notes ever lower and then nailing them.
Tyler Hunter as Elvis looked familiar for a good reason: I saw him play Elvis in “Legends in Concert” in Atlantic City. He was good then and he’s good now.
James Barry is a dazzling guitar player and fine singer as Carl Perkins, and John Countryman is both funny and a whirling dervish on the piano in his down-home portrayal of the irrepressible Jerry Lee Lewis
Vince Nappo is fine as Phillips, the small-time operator who struck oil but soon found himself out-gunned by the big guys as he struggled to hold onto the acts he made famous.
Corey Kaiser is a bass playing terror as Carl Perkins’ brother Jay; Kelly Lamont gets a chance to shine as Dyanne, the girl Elvis brings to the session who joins in on the fun, and Patrick Morrow is a steady hand as the drummer Fluke.
It’s fun to see the all-time greats playing backup vocalist and accompanying each other.
By the way, “Million Dollar Quartet” borrows a bit from “Mamma Mia!,” which has as its finale a series of encore numbers in which the principals come out attired in outrageous pastel-colored spandex outfits popular in the disco era.
In this case, after the story itself ends, four showy sequined jackets are lowered from the ceiling and the quartet embark on several encore numbers, including a “Whole Lotta Of Shakin Goin‘ On” that had the audience up and dancing.
“Million Dollar Quartet” is pure entertainment throughout, skillfully staged and performed, and a delight for anyone who is fan of the era and some of the greatest rock ’n roll tunes ever written.
The Relevant Theatricals national touring production of “Million Dollar Quartet.” Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux. Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Scenic design by Derek McLane. Costume design by Jane Greenwood. Lighting design by Howell Binkley. Sound design by Kai Harada. At the Citi Emerson Colonial Theatre through Oct. 20. http://www.broadwayinboston.com.

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