Million Dollar Quartet | The Fabulous Fox Theatre

Million-Dollar-Quartet_75From the first note of “Blue Suede Shoes” to the last note of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” the opening night crowd at Million Dollar Quartet was vibrating.

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From the first note of “Blue Suede Shoes” to the last note of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” the opening night crowd at Million Dollar Quartet was vibrating. Shoulders were swaying, heads bobbing, hands clapping, and my own feet were tapping to the infectious, historically remarkable jam session being recreated on stage.

The audience was transported with ease back to Memphis, Dec. 4, 1956, to the one-room studio that was Sun Records. Its compact size—and the fact that it used to be an auto repair shop—did not trouble its proud owner Sam Phillips (Bryan Langlitz) one bit. Referred to as the “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll” Phillips had discovered some future Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Famers—Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash among them—at a time when people believed the genre would be short-lived. The church called it a sin.

On this chilly winter evening, Phillips was hoping to hear another chart topper come out of his current investment Carl Perkins (Gabe Bowling), who went on to be referred to as the King of Rockabilly. (This show also sets the record straight that “Blue Suede Shoes” was originally Perkins’ song. Elvis covered it. I, for one, had no idea!) To increase the dynamic of Perkins’ three-instrument sound, Phillips decided to give Louisiana-native Jerry Lee Lewis (Colte Julian) and his prodigious piano playing fingers a shot at stardom. Even though Lewis is obnoxious and self-important, he had me laughing out loud throughout the show. The fact that he was neither star-struck nor intimidated by the chart-toppers in the room was admirable. Everyone is outstanding in this production, but Julian is the star of this show as Lewis.

Next, our “Man in Black” Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau) drops in, clearly nervous about something, but his deep vocals are unwavering as he takes a guitar from Phillips and begins playing with Perkins and Lewis.

Million-Dollar-Quartet_300The audience adored Cash, but we all knew this four-some was still missing a big player. Phillips had told us Elvis Presley (Jacob Rowley) would be stopping by for a visit and my eyes were constantly darting to the studio door in anticipation of his arrival with his girlfriend at the time, Dyanne (Laura Obenauf). Phillips had reluctantly sold Elvis to RCA almost a year prior to make ends meet.

When I read the premise for this show, I had one concern. I dreaded the possibility that there would be nothing remarkable about those cast as these musical greats. I half-expected a tribute band-esq sound. We’ve all seen our fair share of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash impersonators. Those over-the-top, exaggerated imposters are no rarity. However, that is NOT what you’ll find at this performance. Instead audience members will witness a group of men who so successfully honor and passionately embody the men they are portraying that the authenticity of it all is guaranteed to mesmerize. And don’t forget, this isn’t just a glorified concert. There is a plot to this show, and there is a fair amount of dramatic irony to feed the show’s impending conflicts.   

At the beginning of the show, the announcer makes a point of stating that everyone on stage will be playing their instruments live, and it’s immediately evident that the members of this quartet are just as much polished musicians as they are actors. I was struck by how incredibly comfortable they were with their instruments, especially Julian as Lewis. He pounded those black and white keys with speed and energy, the four legs of his piano bench hardly ever all flat on the ground. I mustn’t forget to mention bass player Chuck Zayas and drummer Patrick Morrow. These two hardly ever stopped playing.

Not one number in the show fails to impress, but my personal favorites were “Who Do You Love?” “Fever,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” “Down By the Riverside,” “Peace in the Valley,” “I Walk the Line,” “See You Later Alligator,” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” And boy was there a lot of shaking in that audience!

As someone who has not grown up listening to these musicians, I felt as though I was meeting each of them for the first time, and I was extremely taken! We should all thank our lucky stars that the sound engineer that day thought to record the casual, spontaneous gathering of this Million Dollar Quartet. Happenstance at its finest. | Megan Washausen

Million Dollar Quartet runs at The Fabulous Fox Theatre through Sunday, March 1. For ticket information, visit http://www.fabulousfox.com.

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