On a chilly night in December 1956, kismet brought together four music legends Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley for an incredible jam session that would live on in the history books. Million Dollar Quartet, directed by Signature Theatre’s Eric Schaeffer, is currently showing at the Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater, and is the electrifying Tony-Award-winning musical inspired by that night.
The story begins at an interesting time in the history of Rock and Roll music and the careers of the four music legends. Rock and Roll music had gained a lot of traction, but it was still seen as “the devils music” and thought to be a passing phase. But Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records and known to many as the “Father of Rock and Roll” just knew that this music that could move people ‘body and soul’ was here to stay. He had a knack for discovering talented musicians and helping them become even better. Phillips was responsible for discovering Presley, Cash, Perkins, and Lewis.
The show is narrated by Sam Phillips (Vince Nappo), and opens with Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye) playing piano at a recording session for Carl Perkins (Robery Britton Lyons) in hopes that he can help reinvigorate Perkins career. Elvis (Cody Slaughter), after an incredibly successful year with multiple chart toppers and movies, makes an impromptu visit to the studio accompanied by his girlfriend Dyanne (Kelly Lamont). Johnny Cash (David Elkins) comes to the studio to meet Phillips to discuss the end of his contract with Sun Records. In several tableaus, Phillips talks about how he met each of these men, what he saw that was special in them, and how he helped them reach musical performance heights that even the artists didn’t believe they could reach. Strained relationships, tensions between old friends, and secrets, are woven into the backdrop of the jam session. With bass player Jay Perkins (Corey Kaiser) and drummer Fluke (Billy Shaffer), and a little help and encouragement from Dyanne and Sam Phillips, Perkins, Lewis, Presley, and Cash produce a once-in-a-lifetime recording of this jam session.
The show is a blast of nostalgia for those who grew up in this turbulent time in music history with hits like “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Matchbox,” and “Great Balls of Fire.” For those of us not lucky enough to have been around to experience this first hand, the cast is so amazingly talented that I could really believe I was watching these legendary performers in action. Lyons, Elkins, Kay, and Slaughter all give captivating performances. In addition, these four incredibly talented actors are actually playing the instruments live on the stage.
Kaye’s fingers on the piano keys are so fast and so agile that he is able to do things with the keyboard that hasn’t been seen since Jerry Lee Lewis himself. Slaughter has Elvis’ hip-swaying, and the swagger that hides the insecurities down to a ‘T.’ Elkins’ voice was so smooth and deep and so like Johnny Cash that it sent a chill down my spine. Lyons’ performance on the guitar would have made the “King of Rockabilly” (as Perkins was known) proud.
The performance of the final four songs is reminiscent of a rock concert. Can you imagine these four legends together on one stage?
Million Dollar Quartet is a rip-roaring, piano-climbing, upright bass-scaling, rock-and-rolling good time that will have you dancing in your seat and up on your feet! It is definitely not to be missed!
Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.
Million Dollar Quartet plays through January 6, 2013 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater – 2700 F St NW, in Washington, DC. Purchase tickets online, by phone at (202) 467-4600, or at The Kennedy Center box office.