“Million Dollar Quartet” is not quite a musical and not quite a tribute show, but it is absolutely, positively, a whole lot of fun.
The show is based on a magical night in 1956 when Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley got together at Sun Records in Memphis for an impromptu jam session.
This all occurred under the watchful eye of Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, who discovered these rock ‘n roll pioneers and started their careers.
The actual event was little more than a group of legendary musicians goofing around for a few hours, but it makes a great framework for a Broadway show.
The touring production of “Million Dollar Quartet” is now playing at the Fox Theatre through May 5 and allows the audience to be a fly on the wall for that once-in-a-lifetime gathering.
The show is thin on plot and tries to wring what meager drama it can out of Phillips’ financial wheelings and dealings.
Phillips is played with ample charm and charisma by Vince Nappo, who pretty much just serves as the narrator and provides all the historical context we could ever need.
The success of “Million Dollar Quartet” falls on the four leads, who not only must channel the look and feel of these iconic performers, but must also play their own instruments.
Cody Slaughter plays Elvis and is as close to a dead ringer for the part as any of the other actors. The guy could hang out in front of Graceland and give heart attacks to the tourists. He also nails The King’s vocals and trademark swinging hips, but Elvis is probably the least interesting character of the bunch, which is no fault of Slaughter’s, which I suspect also was true in 1956.
David Elkins plays Johnny Cash, delivering the most wooden performance of the show. With Cash being my personal favorite of the four, I was pretty disappointed with Elkins — until he started to sing. Cash’s deep baritone is not easy to imitate, but Elkins was as close to the real thing as we can ever hope to get and he actually managed to bring some of Cash’s soulful spark to the music that he failed to bring to the rest of his performance.
I was intrigued by James Barry’s turn as Carl Perkins, a performer who has become a bit of a forgotten player as history marches onward. Barry (a fantastic guitar player in his own right) plays Perkins as a man with a bit of a chip on his shoulder as if he already knew he would be overlooked in spite of being one of the pioneers of “rockabilly” and one of the first white artists to adopt Chuck Berry’s freewheeling guitar style.
Much as it was in real life, the show winds up being stolen by Jerry Lee Lewis, or that is to say, Ben Goddard, who gleefully channels that wild, energetic piano man. Goddard not only gets all the best lines as the slightly unhinged Lewis but also rocks the piano in a manner that The Killer himself would certainly be proud of.
Rounding out the cast is Kelly Lamont as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, who takes a few turns at the mic and brings a needed feminine energy to the show.
I also have to give a shout-out to Corey Kaiser, who spends the whole show on the bandstand playing the upright bass like a man possessed.
The real star though of “Million Dollar Quartet” is the music, boasting a set list that looks as if it came straight from Fonzie’s jukebox.
Hits like “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “That’s All Right,” “Hound Dog” and “Great Balls of Fire” ensure that the show is never short on energy. In fact, the whole thing plays out like the greatest party a wax museum ever saw.
This show is a must-see for fans of early rock ‘n roll and the best part is that if you hold your head just right and squint just a little bit, you feel like you’re sitting in a forgotten corner of Sun Records, watching rock history happen before your very eyes.
“Million Dollar Quartet” is now playing at the Fox Theatre through May 5. For tickets call (314)-534-1111 or go to metrotix.com.