Million Dollar Quartet
Citadel Theatre, Shoctor Stage, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
Oct. 22 to Nov. 6, 2016
Review by GRAHAM HICKS, hicksbiz.com
Holy moly, Lord have mercy, great balls of fire, it’s a miracle!
Well, not quite. But damn near.
Somehow, the Citadel Theatre found the perfect four actors for its production of Million Dollar Quartet, running through November 13, 2016 on the Shoctor Stage.
Piano virtuoso, singer and madcap actor Christo Graham embodies the spirit, cheekiness and looks of Jerry Lee Lewis.
Guitarist, singer and actor Kale Penny plays every complex Carl Perkins’ guitar lick as if were his own.
Singer/actor Christopher Fordinal’s reincarnation of the young Elvis Presley will be a life-long meal ticket.
Singer/actor Greg Gale impersonates (in the best sense of the word) Johnny Cash’s mannerisms plus possesses a melodious baritone that is uncannily Cash-like.
The context of the musical, first produced in 2006 and subsequently a hit on Broadway and the West End, is a fictional account of a real event.
On Dec. 4, 1956, in the ramshackle recording studio of Sam Phillips’ Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, rock ‘n’ roll star Elvis Presley, the undiscovered Jerry Lee Lewis and the neglected Carl Perkins came together for an impromptu evening of friendship and song. Later in the evening, in walks rising country star and fellow Sun recording artist Johnny Cash.
Phillips, who had discovered all four and nurtured their early careers, thoughtfully recorded the entire event.
Like the musical Jersey Boys – chronicling the tribulations and triumphs of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons – Million Dollar Quartet takes liberties with the actual event to craft it into an evening of dramatic theatre and music (23 songs – all note-perfect and true to the originals).
The main dramatic tension, for instance, is an impending announcement by Cash that will dramatically change the fortunes of Phillips and Sun Records. In reality, Cash did not make such a decision until 1958.
Most of the dramatic themes appear authentic. There’s friendship, but underlying tensions.
Perkins resents Presley’s co-opting of Perkins’ first and only big hit, Blue Suede Shoes.
The young Jerry Lee Lewis knows no filters and nearly has his lights punched out by all three slightly older stars for his sassiness and ego.
Cash is brooding. He understands the impending consequences of his actions.
Elvis is on holiday with his girlfriend, just happy to be with his friends and free of the demands of stardom.
The confident, David-versus-Goliath Phillips, played so well by Edmonton’s Ryan Parker, subliminally knows the evening is the zenith of his impresario career, but has far too much hutzpah to acknowledge the impending decline. Parker is the glue that holds the production together.
The solid, sturdy script works well. It’s far more than a token exercise around which to hang the great rockabilly/rock ‘n’ roll songs from the ‘50s and early ‘60s.
But it was the on-stage ensemble, under the direction of the multi-talentedTed Dykstra, that had the opening-night audience cheering and clapping through the entire (no intermission) 1 hour and 40 minute production, had us on our feet for a standing ovation, and then another after the obligatory (in the concert world) encores.
The musical performances were quite perfect – including all the characters’ major hits of the era. Vanessa Sears, as Elvis’s girlfriend Dyanne, brings an R&B element. Her takes on Fever and I Hear You Knocking sent chills up and down the spine.
The depth of the acting talent, the story line and the direction are such that no one actor steals the show. Each remains so true to character that the ensemble – including drummer Fluke (Nelson Collins-Lee) and bassist Jay Perkins (Paul Cournoyer) – emerges as the true King of Rock ‘n’ Roll.
You need not be a fan of the era, or even of the rockabilly/rock genre. This is a show with appeal to all, from an 18-year-old alt-rocker to a 90-year-old Hank Snow fan, from serious theatre buffs to heavy metal fans. Because it’s the definitive story of the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, the musical foundation of just about everybody alive on this planet today.
And it all started, as told so faithfully in this production, in Sam Phillips’ tiny recording studio in Memphis 60 years ago.