I have to admit when MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET was playing on Broadway it really didn't interest me. So when I stepped into the Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theatre I had no idea what to expect. And what a pleasant surprise I had.
How the Signature Theatre's Artistic Director Eric Schaeffer ever got the gig to direct this musical should be an interesting story. In fact, the last time I was in this theater was to celebrate Schaeffer's 50th Birthday celebration.
After viewing this thoroughly enjoyable evening of music, I felt like I had just witnessed the Mt. Rushmore of rock 'n' roll starring Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. What a treat!
The story is based a true reunion for one night only in the studio of Sun Records in Memphis. There is even a recording of what occurred on that historical evening but the music was mainly country and gospel. So the producers took dramatic license and changed the musical numbers for a mass audience. And they chose wisely.
There is also a slim book which concerns a recording session for Perkins and an introduction to a new pianist Jerry Lee Lewis by Sun Records' impresario Sam Phillips who originally signed these four icons. Presley drops by after his trip to Hollywood and after signing with RCA records. Cash is expected to sign a new three year contract but things don't work out there.
RCA is also interested in bringing on Phillips to its label but the stubborn musical maven instead decides to sign Roy Orbison and buy stock (thanks to the money RCA paid him to sign Presley) in a small hotel chain, Holiday Inn.
You will learn a little. Did you know "Blue Suede Shoes" was initially done by Perkins? But for a mishap, Perkins was to sing the song on the nationally televised Perry Como show. A few weeks later, Presley sang it on the "Ed Sullivan Show", Perkins wasn't very pleased and the rest is history.
Perkins is played by the talented Robert Britton Lyons. Phillips (played by Vince Nappo) mentions at the top of the show that these musicians are ACTUALLY playing their own instruments and Lyons plays a mean guitar.
English actor Martin Kaye nearly steals the show as Jerry Lee Lewis. Looking a little like "Harpo" Marx, Kaye is an accomplished pianist and performer and one can't help thinking you are watching the real Jerry Lee Lewis.
I've always been a fan of Johnny Cash and saw him once in person in Boston. David Elkins as such a smooth and deep voice that you think you are watching the real Cash.
Presley arrives at the jam session with his girlfriend Dyanne (played by Kelly Lamont) who gets a chance to sing two lovely numbers.
But it's Cody Slaughter as Presley that people will remember. Played by Cody Slaughter, you think you are watching the real Pressley. (You get the picture?) In fact, Slaughter was named Elvis Presley Enterprises' Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist of 2011. This is a svelte Presley circa 1956 not the Vegas' style older Elvis and does he ever "move". (Maryland native Billy Woodward is currently playing the role.)
The show ends with a bow but I noticed that the Playbill list of songs made it clear that there were four more songs to go. So don't leave early or you'll miss "Hound Dog", "Riders in the Sky", "See You Later Alligator", and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On". It is only after these numbers the audience gave the cast the standing ovation they so richly deserved. What a coda to a great evening.
The Baltimore/Washington area is so lucky to have a New Year's Eve with musicals performing. At the Kennedy Center, both WHITE CHRISTMAS and MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET have shows while the Signature Theatre has DREAMGIRLS.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET continues until January 6, 2013. For tickets, call 202-467-4600 or visit www.kennedy-center.org.
Happy New Year to you all!!
See you at the theater.