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Theatre Review: Million Dollar Quartet rolls into town

 Lisa Much Theatre Review: Million Dollar Quartet rolls into town
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Last night, the touring production of Million Dollar Quartet played to a packed house at the Palace Theatre. The show features a rollicking array of popular songs from the titular musicians.

Loosely based on a famed night in rock n’ roll history, where Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins jammed in the studio of Sun Records, the show tries to relive some of the raw musical beauty of that night. With narration by Sam Phillips, executive at Sun Records, the studio where all four men got their start, the audience receives a bit of a history lesson sprinkled within the almost two hour concert.

The actors boast powerful voices and expertise with their instruments (they all actually play their character’s instrument). Especially notable is Ben Goddard as Jerry Lee Lewis who nicely emulates Lewis’s piano playing, though portrays Lewis as more of a cartoon character. David Elkin beautifully booms as Cash’s famed bass with simple strumming and Cody Slaughter looks and sounds just like Elvis. James Barry adds rivalry and rockabilly as Carl Perkins. While the actors play and sing their songs, the music really comes to life thanks to Billy Schaffer and Corey Kaiser who remain on the stage the entire time playing bass and drums. The finest points in the evening come from ensemble pieces of glorious gospel harmonization like “Down by the Riverside” and “Peace in the Valley.”

Unfortunately, though the music rocks, the story does not roll along well. A loose plot gets thrown into a jam session. Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux’s script poorly layers conflict, jealously, and rivalry onto what seemed like a fairly fun night for hometown boys to get together and relax around Christmas. Furthermore, the addition of the character Dyanne, who portrays one of Elvis’s girlfriends, does nothing for the story. Kelly Lamont as Dyanne belts beautifully and adds a hint of estrogen, but the character remains a generic 1956 dress, that makes the audience wonder why she is in the show other than for vocal harmonization.

The musical also features a false ending. After the curtain call, the actors don sparkle suit jackets and all pretense of a story leaves, while the audience can revel in a rollicking good time of a concert. This continued performing after the bows feels quite awkward and adds an extra twenty minutes to the show.

Perhaps, most interesting apart from the music, came when Phillips explains to Elvis why he should not mimic Dean Martin—an artist must identify himself, rather than emulate an idol. “If you ain’t doing nothing new, you ain’t doing nothing at all.” I suppose, candidly, that statement expresses my sentiments on musical revues. Given the talent these performers possess, it seems ironic they would use it to reiterate the past, particularly while explaining the birth and revolutionary break-through of a genre.

All in all though, for those that enjoy early rock n’ roll, Million Dollar Quartet promises a night of music-filled fun, entertainment, and possible nostalgia.

Photos by Joan Marcus.

Million Dollar Quartet is in town through Feb. 10 at the Palace Theatre, 34 W. Broad Street and plays Wed.-Sat. at 8 pm; Sat. at 2 pm; Sun. at 1 pm & 6:30 pm. Ticket prices range. More information can be found online at www.capa.com.

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