Book: Colin Escott &Flloyd Mutrix
Conceived by Flloyd Mutrix
Director: Ian Talbot
Reviewer: John Roberts
On one cold Memphis evening on December 4, 1956 – at the famous Sun Studios, legendary record producer Sam Phillips was in a recording studio laying down tracks for recent number one artist Carl Philips… playing for him that session was an unknown live-wire pianist called Jerry Lee Lewis. Philips also had other plans that evening and had arranged his current country artist Johnny Cash to drop by as Elvis Presley was coming over to let his then, girlfriend, Dyanne meet his family. What should have been a casual hello turned into a jam and recording session that music history was made for.
Million Dollar Quartet transports us to that very studio in Sun Records, and, while the production may seem a bit light in comparison to other jukebox musicals, it hits highs with outstanding musical performances. Played out on David Farley’s studio box set that jaunts perspective, the era of the time is well evoked and comes magically alive during musical numbers thanks to David Howe’s colourful, yet tasteful lighting design.
Director Ian Talbot alongside legendary casting director David Grindrod have brought together some of the finest actor-musicians this reviewer has ever seen. Part of the magic of Million Dollar Quartet is watching these talented performers play their instruments and they do it with such ease of skill that they leave you in awe watching them. Alongside the main cast, Ben Cullingworth on Drums keeps the rhythm of the group firmly in check and James Swinnerton on the Double Bass swings the stage with a virtuoso performance.
In a slightly unusual move for regular musical theatre performer, Jason Donovan takes to the stage and apart from joining in for the sublime finale doesn’t sing a note in the whole show, instead, he takes on the reigns of Sam Philips. Here his performance is confident and assured and balances the act of dialogue and fourth-wall breaking narration with ease. Katie Ray as Elvis’s love interest Dyanne bring a much needed feminine edge to the male-heavy ensemble and also manages to shine with brilliant vocals too. Matthew Wycliffe is a strong Carl Perkins and Ross William Wild brings the hips alive with his portrayal of Elvis Presley but it is the performances of Johnny Cash played by Robbie Durham and Jerry Lee Lewis played by Ashley Carruthers who really steal the show.
Durham’s portrayal of Cash is grounded and weighted, he manages to bring a real spiritual edge to the dark man of country music. Carruthers as Jerry Lee Lewis nails his performance, not only bringing his characters annoying braggart edge to the front but sensationally playing the piano with a virtuosity that is rarely seen on stage. Ever wanted to see a pianist play with his feet or backwards over the top… then look now further.
Million Dollar Quartet may not provide any deep or unheard of stories from that eventful December evening, but it does give you real value for money and the performances from the incredible ensemble are a real highlight. It’s just a shame that the audience on the evening were a little light on the ground – but that didn’t stop this cast from giving a powerhouse performance that screams to be seen.
Runs until 18th February 2017 | Image: Darren Bell