Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins - all household names - all legends in Rock and Roll. See the story behind the hits and how these four stars made rock n’ roll history.
“Million Dollar Quartet” is a musical written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott, and is based on a recording of an impromptu jam session involving Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash made on December 4, 1956, at the Sun Records Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. An article about the session was published in the Memphis Press-Scimitar under the title "Million Dollar Quartet". The recording was first released in Europe in 1981 as The Million Dollar Quartet with 17 tracks. A few years later more tracks were discovered and released as The Complete Million Dollar Session. In 1990, the recordings were released in the United States as Elvis Presley - The Million Dollar Quartet. This session is considered a seminal moment in Rock and Roll history.
The musical first premiered at Florida’s Seaside Music Theatre, running from November 9 to December 4, 2006, and was then staged at the Village Theatre in Issaquah, Washington in September through October 2007, and Everett, Washington, in January 2008, breaking box office records. The show then opened on Broadway in 2010 and in the West End in 2011.
Love them or loathe them, jukebox musicals seem to becoming somewhat of a “thing”. I personally cannot decide whether this is because a) there’s a demand for them or b) they are an easy readymade story line and musical numbers. Other than ROCK OF AGES, I have yet to see a jukebox musical that I love, but this isn’t down to the actual shows themselves, rather the musical subjects the story is based round. It is probably an age thing on my part as musicals such as Jersey Boys - based on Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, and Sunny Afternoon - based on The Kinks, are based on bands well before my era so the history and songs have very little sentimental meaning to me. However, I was drawn into Million Dollar Quartet mainly for the casting of Jason Donovan as Sam Phillips, record company owner of Sun Records that launched the careers of the Million Dollar Quartet.
Although Donovon’s role in this production is mainly a non-singing one, I was keen to see him perform in a musical again having been a huge fan since the early 1980s! However, I was soon distracted from Donovan’s performance by the other cast members, mainly Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis; providing the comical element to the production whose mannerisms at the piano perfectly mimicked Lewis’ iconic leg shakes and exaggerated movements and was loveable as the odd ball and outcast of the four guys - mocked for not playing guitar and defending himself whilst trying to come up with his first big hit. Martin Kaye gave a memorable performance and was for me the highlight of the show.
Ross William Wild was a convincing Elvis Presley with all the right moves and soon wooed the audience with his iconic Presley charm and moves. His friendship with manager Sam Philips was not always plain sailing - “You wrote a song about your shoes, you must really love those shoes” Sam to Elvis, only for the song “Blue Suede Shoes” to become huge hit. Sam had helped shape the careers of the four guys before they split and went their separate ways and it was hard not to feel sorry for Sam when one by one stated they were parting company with him. Vocally the highlight of the production came from Katie Ray as Elvis’ then girlfriend Dyanne who gave a spine tingling rendition of “Fever”.
Robbie Durham as Johnny Cash was totally convincing with the deep voice and mannerisms of the great legend himself with a sensational performance of “I Walk the Line”.
Matthew Wycliffe as Carl Perkins gave a sensational performance and highlighted that he has just continued to blossom since starring in Jersey Boys and The Commitments in the West End, and appeared to be the “gel” that held the quartet together in terms of how he portrayed the character. The entire performance is set within a recording studio with a live band and each member of the quartet playing their instruments live, with a couple of technical guys working within the “recording studio”.
As with similar jukebox musicals, the storyline was somewhat minimal and focused on the hits with bits of the history thrown into the script. Maybe if I had been around at the height of the quartets fame I may have found it more interesting to watch but sadly this was not the case. The show alone is worth it purely for the strong cast members however for me it is not what I would particularly class as a musical, and as with similar jukebox musicals, the majority of the audience were all of a certain age and really got into the show. Maybe if they made a musical about The Bangles or Duran Duran I would rate it more as a musical, but until that day I continue to show a lack of interest for such jukebox style musicals.
The performance ended with the full cast singing a medley of well-loved hits from the iconic four which the rest of the show seemed to lack, and I did not feel like the atmosphere of the performance kicked in until Act Two. As a musical itself, the running time is less than two hours, including a 20 minute interval and seemed to be over so quickly.
The stage design and costumes themselves were spectacular and sympathetic to the era (David Farley) and I enjoyed the history of the quartet portrayed through the storyline.
Million Dollar Quartet continues its run at Sheffield’s Lyceum Theatre until Saturday 1st October before continuing its UK tour into 2017, and I admit I have already purchased tickets to return on Saturday!
Although not my usual cup of tea when it comes to musicals, the cast really make this show a pleasure to watch from start to finish.
Reviewer: Lottie Davis-Browne
Reviewed: 27th September 2016
North West End Rating: ★★★