Not until the last twenty minutes or so of the new ninety minute musical Million Dollar Quartet, directed by Eric Schaeffer, which is rocking and rolling at the Nederlander Theatre do you get that glorious feeling of elation and excitement that you have been hungry for all evening after slogging through some dreary, historically fabricated book scenes that tell the tale of that fateful day in December, 1956 when Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash had an impromptu jam session at the Sun Records Recording Studio in Memphis.
The studio owned and run by a fast talking, shrewd and arrogant Southerner named Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster) – the “Father of Rock and Roll” who discovered and nurtured these four rockers, narrates the story – jumping back and forth in time – filling us in on some interesting facts in an uninteresting and not very dramatic manner. The book by Colin Escott & Floyd Mutrux is simply an excuse to showcase all the fabulous songs of the period and give the four actors ample opportunity to strut their stuff. Which they do.
A new piano player has been hired for the session – Jerry Lee Lewis, a dynamic and wild and explosive Levi Kreis. At odds with him is Carl Perkins (Robert Britton Lyons) who has a chip on his shoulder and resents this new dynamo. A chip that is quite understandable as his song “Blue Suede Shoes” has been made famous by Elvis Presley (Eddie Clendening of the curled lip, pompadour and wiggly legs) who arrives with girl friend in tow, Dyanne (a sexy Elizabeth Stanley). And it doesn’t take much prompting to get her to sing. Her rendition of “Fever” just about sets the stage afire. Lance Guest rounds out this friendly if ego clashing foursome as Johnny Cash who has just the right tone and attitude without impersonating the star.
As mentioned, the music is paramount and each number is performed expertly although sometimes only a small section is sung to allow for those annoying book scenes to rear their dull heads and the audience who wants to applaud is cut off from doing so.
That is, until the recording studio disappears and they don the four multi colored sequined jackets that have descended from above and we get the concert we have been waiting for: “Hound Dog” “Riders in the Sky” “See You Later Alligator” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”. It really is worth the wait. They pull out all the stops and whip the audience into a frenzy. All of the guys are great but I have to single out Levi Kreis as Jerry Lee Lewis for his humor, his phenomenal piano playing, his singing and his wild abandonment that is simply infectious.
www.MillionDollarQuartetLive.com Photo: Joan Marcus