Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET Captures Rock and Roll History

L-R: John Countryman, Michael Monroe Goodman, Cole, and David Elkins
All photos by Caught in the Moment Photography

3-D Theatricals recreates a pivotal moment in rock and roll history in their latest production, Million Dollar Quartet. It’s the date (December 4, 1956) four legendary musicians – Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash – would all end up at Sun Records in Memphis on the same day and take part in one of the most famous jam sessions of all times.

Carl was there to record a new song Sun Records’ founder Sam Phillips hoped would revitalize his career, with the addition of a young, unknown piano player named Jerry Lee Lewis. Elvis dropped by with his girlfriend to get some advice from the man who discovered him, and Johnny, who’d been avoiding Phillips in recent weeks, stopped in for a heart-to-heart while June and kids were out shopping. Get that many artists with a passion for music in their souls together and it’s only a matter of time before they start to jam.

John Countryman, Michael Monroe Goodman, Cole, and David Elkins

Luckily, an engineer rolled tape and captured the foursome shooting the breeze and singing familiar hymns and country songs for the next several hours. It was the one and only time the King of Rockabilly, the Killer, the King of Rock ‘n Roll, and the Man in Black would ever play together and that alone makes it one for the books. Dubbed the Million Dollar Quartet by the press in an article about the event, this high-energy musical is a dramatization of that day.

Only a handful of the 22+ songs in the show by creators Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux were actually recorded that afternoon but the stage musical features many of their greatest hits including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Real Wild Child,” “Matchbox,” and “Folsom Prison Blues.” Don’t start to leave during curtain call because some of the best songs take place during the encore in a finale that literally had the audience at the Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center on its feet cheering and bopping to the beat (no small feat in this location).

David Lober recreates Mutrux’s original direction and the production uses many of the official technical elements from the National Tour, including props and guitars, Derek McLane’s original set, and costumes based on Jane Greenwood’s original designs. If you saw Million Dollar Quartet at the Hollywood Pantages in 2012, you’re sure to have a happy moment of déjà vu when the most surprising element of all drops from the ceiling like a gift from the gods.

Omar Brancato, David Lamoureux, Cole, and Zachary Ford

The show is narrated by Zachary Ford as Sam Phillips (albeit with a little too much Barney Fife gusto), who relates how he discovered each of the artists when they were young and poor. In addition to the music, there is drama in the studio as Jerry Lee and Carl clash, and secrets come to light that will affect the future of Sun Records. The four actor/musicians who play the artists in question are immensely talented and all of them have appeared in numerous productions of the show in cities like Las Vegas and Chicago, and around the country on its National Tour. Each steps into his icon’s unique energy and personality like a second skin and all sound eerily like their counterparts.

John Countryman grabs hold of Jerry Lee’s cocksure, showy style and never lets go. Cole has Elvis’s hip-swiveling, swoon worthy moves down to a science, and Michael Monroe Goodman adds a charismatic intensity to Perkins’ guitar picking that shows why musicians are among the sexiest beings on the planet. As Cash, David Elkins is quietly charming and impresses by replicating the singer’s signature bass vocals as few can. When they lay back into effortless 4-part harmony on spirituals like “Down by the Riverside” it is breathtaking. Omar Brancato (as Jay Perkins) on upright bass and David Lamoureux (Fluke) on drums back the headliners with reckless abandon.

Adrienne Visnic
The odd man out is actually a woman, Adrienne Visnic playing Dyanne, an eye candy character based on one of Elvis’ many girlfriends, since no one knew who the real woman at the session was until more recently. Visnic has a lovely voice but oversings her biggest number, “Fever” most famously recorded by Peggy Lee. Shes a young actor playing at being sexy with generic poses and a constant smile that keep her in trivial territory.

But it hardly matters. This show belongs to the boys and this cast is the real deal. Million Dollar Quartet is a rock and roll thrill-ride-a-minute brought to life by four incredible musicians emulating four amazing musical icons. That’s all you really need for success.

John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis

Michael Monroe Goodman as Carl Perkins and David Elkins as Johnny Cash

Feb 9 – 18, 2018
Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center
Feb 23 - March 4, 2018
Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts3-D Theatricals
Tickets: www.3dtheatricals.org

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