Writers: Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrix
Director: Ian Talbot
Reviewer: Holly Spanner
It’s the fourth of December 1956 in Nashville, Tennessee. In a small recording studio on 706 Union Avenue, a seminal moment in rock n’ roll history is taking place; an impromptu jam session between Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash. And, as far as history tells us, is quite by chance. Million Dollar Quartet is a retelling of that incredible day.
The set is simple yet evocative. Six gold records hang on the wall and an assortment of instruments lay about the stage. Tape reels are spinning and coffee is being drunk in the control room at the rear of the stage. There are no set changes throughout the performance. Instead, it’s the energy from the cast and David Howe’s lighting that propels the show along. There’s no narrative as such, a few revelations and flashbacks to their first time in the recording studio, but ultimately this is about the music. At the time, only Jerry Lee Lewis was still to find fame outside of local circles, but all were destined for worldwide success. And somehow, all four musicians found themselves returning to the place where they started out. Maybe it was destiny, maybe it was orchestrated, but one thing is for certain, the events of that day continue to inspire people today, six decades later.
Hot from performing the role in Vegas, Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis is phenomenal. Wild and energetic, his hands are a blur; uncontrollable, confident, self-assured and incredibly talented. Pounding the keys with his feet before leaping off the piano, he taps into the very heart of rock n’ roll’s first great wild man, barely even appearing to think about the notes, the music is so ingrained.
Although Elvis was (and still is) widely credited for Blue Suede Shoes, it was Carl Perkins who wrote it. It was his song, and not only that, this was supposed to be his recording session – and it was being gatecrashed by the man who eclipsed him. Matt Wycliffe as Perkins has the attitude, but it’s also the respect for his producer, Sam Phillips, that comes across in his performance. These dynamics, the frayed tempers, egos and comradery create an atmosphere very much like that of a family gathering.
Jason Donovan brings a prominence and charm to the role of Phillips, an advocate of racial equality. Somewhat of a narrator in the show, he has a delightful sincerity; the lack of a singing role more than made up for by his proven dramatic talent.
Ross William Wild as Elvis has got the moves, the looks, and the voice. Arguably the most successful export of Sun Records, he is well mannered and mild. That is until he starts singing and those hips start swinging. Music is his release, even in the studio. Robbie Durham completes the quartet as the humble Johnny Cash. There is a mounting nervous tension as he delivers the bombshell that he’s leaving Sun Records for rival Columbia Records.
With hits from the ’50s, including Hound Dog, See You Later Alligator, Fever, Great Balls of Fire, Sixteen Tons, Brown Eyed Handsome Man, I Walk the Line and Peace in the Valley to name a few, Million Dollar Quartet is a fast and furious crowd pleaser.
Runs until 10 November 2016 then touring nationwide | Image: Darren Bell