Writers: Colin Escott &Floyd Mutrux
Director: Ian Talbot
Reviewer: David Jobson
In an age where jukebox musicals make easy money, the question of story comes up. Does one try to string the songs together to make a vague story, or alternatively just follow the story of the musician concerned. This musical has instead tried something different, dramatising an event that took place over one afternoon.
Million Dollar Quartet transports us back to December 1956 and the early days of Rock ‘n Roll. When, music producer Sam Phillips brought together four boys, he nurtured and turned into rock and roll stars. Names that are still famous and loved by many, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis. In one afternoon, at Sun Record Studios the four entertained themselves with a jam session, playing 17 songs, that were recorded to create this famous record.
Audiences can expect energetic performances of tracks such as Blue Suede Shoes, That’s All Right, I Walk the Line, and Great Balls of Fire. Only a few of the actual songs from the record are performed in the musical, including Brown Eyed Handsome Men, Down by the Riverside and Peace in the Valley
The story feels thin as writers Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott try to dramatise what record there is of the events that took place in that recording studio. What embellishments they have added merely fill in the gaps between the songs.
Some of the filler is provided by Jason Donovan as Sam Phillips, the man who kick-started the boys’ careers. At times he interrupts songs to proclaim his pride in the talent he has found. Even to the point of recounting how he met each one in turn. Apart from that he doesn’t have a lot to do apart from retreating back and forth to the sound booth and sitting around.
The performers playing the boys give enthusiastic and authentic performances. Martin Kaye steals the limelight at times as the loose cannon, Jerry Lee Lewis. Not surprising since he has already played the role in Las Vegas. A jokester who keeps winding the others up, he encapsulates the singer’s fiery personality as he hammers on the piano.
Putting up with his antics is Matthew Wycliffe as Carl Perkins. During the musical, he portrays an air of wariness towards the others maybe because of the way his music has been freely used without his consent. It’s a tension that only breaks though at the end of the musical.
There is also a sense of uneasiness from Johnny Cash, who is trying to find the right moment to speak with Sam Phillips. A sincere performance from Robbie Durham and it is a delight to hear him reach down to the deepest depths of his vocals for songs like Folsom Prison Blues.
Ross William Wild captures the irresistible, jiving personality of Elvis, as well as the mild-mannered and at time shy side to the King of Rock and Roll. Katie Ray, meanwhile, completes the show as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, who gives a seductive performance of Fever
Despite the shallowness of the musical, it is these performers who keep the show going. What story there is comes alive with the personalities they portray and the theatre was alive with energy whenever they played their songs.
This is show is blessed with a running time of two hours and 10 minutes. Any more and this would have been stretched beyond its limits. As it is, Million Dollar Quartet, is a simple dramatisation of a famous event where four rock and roll stars came together to play some music.
Runs until 26 November 2016 then continuing to tour | Image: Darren Bell