Sunday, April 11, 2010

Million Dollar Quartet

photo: Joan Marcus

In order to dramatize the one-time, impromptu 1956 jam session between Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, writers Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux have constructed the thinnest of books while playing fast and loose with the facts. (As they have our narrator Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster) tell it, the session was also the occasion when 3 of the 4 music legends ditched Phillips' Sun Records label.) But why argue with the false, formulaic excuse to showcase the music, when the music is the main attraction and it rocks the roof off the place? Foster commits to his narrator role with skill, in earnest, and Elizabeth Stanley delights in her minor functionary role (I adored her rendition of "Fever"; she's done her homework) but the show is all about the quartet. As you watch the 4 actor-musicians tear into some vintage rock in character, you are reminded of the icons' musicianship and get a sense of what it must have been like to see these men perform way back when rock was the world's brand new, dirty fascination. Apart from Eddie Clendening, whose acting is often tentative as Elvis, the performers do more than impersonate the icons - they seem to connect to them as fellow musicians, and find their personalities through the legends' performance styles. Levi Kreis attacking the piano with jackhammer force as Lewis; Robert Britton Lyons rolling his shoulders as Perkins as if his guitar riffs are expressing his body; Lance Guest as Cash demonstratively staring down the crowd as if in challenge: these are pleasures that will make any vintage rock fan ecstatic.

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