Sunday, January 16, 2011

Down Memory Lane w/'Million Dollar Quartet'

“Million Dollar Quartet,” plus one, above. From left: Levi Kreis as Jerry Lee Lewis on the microphone; Robert Britton Lyons standing behind bass as Carl Perkins; Corey Kaiser as Carl’s brother, Jay, on bass; Eddie Clendening (kneeling) as Elvis Presley, and Lance Guest as Johnny Cash. Photos by Joan Marcus

BY TAMARA BECK

‘MILLION Dollar Quarter,”
at the Nederlander Theatre for an open run, isn’t going platinum anytime soon, nor is it the gold standard for musicals. It is, though, a rollicking vignette based on an actual rock ‘n’ roll event.

Carl Perkins (Jared Mason understudying for Robert Britton Lyons), Johnny Cash (Lance Guest) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Levi Kreis) gather in December 1956 at Sun Records studios in Memphis for a recording session with producer Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster). Elvis Presley (Eddie Clendening), a freshly-minted Hollywood star, and a lady friend, Dyanne (Elizabeth Stanley), show up and an evening of toasts and music ensues. (See a videos at http://www.milliondollarquartetlive.com/broadway-videos.html)

The backup musicians, Carl’s brother, Jay Perkins on bass (Corey Kaiser) and Fluke, the drummer (Larry Lelli) complete the tableau, performing with verve and imagination. “Million Dollar Quartet” is a treasure trove of rock ‘n’ roll memories.

ES’s Dyanne does a terrifically heated “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking.” But this jam session belongs to the boys. LK deserved the Tony he won for his superb portrayal of a young and already randy Jerry Lee. His “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” are wild and worthy of the genuine article. EC has Elvis’ lip twitch and hip swivel down pat and offers a nice range of his songs from “Memories are Made of This” to “Hound Dog.” LG delivers “Folsam Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line” to make him a definitive Johnny Cash.

Producer Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster), left, is watching the magic performed by Jerry Lee (Levi Kreis), Carl (Robert Britton Lyons), Elvis (Eddie Clendening) and Johnny (Lance Guest).

As drama, Broadway’s “Million Dollar Quartet” lacks real tension. A version of the musical is currently playing at Chicago’s Apollo Theatre thru 29 May.

It appears Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee might come to blows. Their sparring is entertaining but it’s more bluster than real spectacle. The uncertainty at the core of “Million Dollar Quartet” is in whether HF’s Sam Phillips will sell out to RCA in New York and whether LG’s Johnny Cash will extend his contract at Sun Records.

On the other hand, as a re-enactment of a legendary moment in ‘50s rock, “Million Dollar Quartet” is an excellent way to pass an hour and fifty-five minutes in a theater.

Visit http://www.milliondollarquartetlive.com/index.html to learn more about “Million Dollar Quartet.”

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