Writers: Colin Escott &Floyd Mutrux
Director: Ian Talbot
Reviewer: Lauren Humphreys
Documenting the now-legendary, one-and-only coming together of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, at the Sun Record Studios in Memphis on December 4, 1956, Million Dollar Quartet is a scintillating, celebratory tale from the dawn of rock ‘n’ roll.
Under the avuncular, or in some eyes, Svengali-like influence of record label owner Sam Phillips, dubbed “the father of rock ‘n’ roll”, the four musicians converge in the studio. Despite the kinship and camaraderie tensions abound: Elvis is already a star; Perkins is in want of his next big hit and can barely contain his anger at Presley’s appropriation of Blue Suede Shoes; Cash is wrestling with dissatisfaction at not being able to record the songs he wants and his own deep-seated Christian values and the devilish Lewis is teetering on the cusp of global stardom. Phillips is keen to re-sign Cash, Cash is fearful of telling Phillips he’s already jumped ship to rival record company Columbia and Phillips is barely keeping his head above water, thinking that “we’ve taken this guitar thing as far as it can go” and having had to “sell” Elvis to RCA to keep his label afloat.
What makes this such an irresistible gem (apart from the knock-out soundtrack) is its cast, who are universally excellent. A stalwart of musical theatre, Jason Donovan (Sam Phillips) is actually at his best in pure acting roles, Phillips fits him like a glove and his measured delivery as the narrator of this tale, is the perfect counterpoint to the frenetic energy of these musical giants. But oh boy, the Quartet themselves, Matthew Wycliffe is a gifted guitar player and his era-evocative voice captures the smouldering Perkins to a tee, Ross William Wild has a lot to live up to as Presley and shines in the slower numbers, in particular Peace in the Valley and Robbie Durham manages to captures Cash’s idiosyncratic bass-baritone voice beautifully – I Walk the Line and Sixteen Tons are a treat. But it is Million Dollar Quartet veteran Martin Kaye who truly impresses, having played on the US tour and Las Vegas production for five years, Kaye has the lion’s share of the best lines and his piano playing is truly astounding.
If any criticism is to be made it’s the paper-thin characterisation of Phillips but the utterly glorious music more than makes up for any faults. The high-octane raw energy and sheer joy with which the Quartet delivers each number is salve for the soul.
Unlike many, Phillip’s can truly claim “I made them boys” and oh what boys! Million Dollar Quartet is glorious, pure unadulterated, no-frills, high-talent entertainment at its best.
Runs until Saturday 19 November 2016 | Image: Darren Bell