Daddylibrium Review: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ Tour

Million Dollar Quartet Denver tourToday's fathers came of age with iTunes, Pandora and a dozen other music technologies that would have made our own dads green with envy. What we missed was the birth of rock in the form of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. "Million Dollar Quartet" is the next best thing to being there. The touring musical, now playing at The Buell Theatre in Denver through March 9, 2014 before moving on to Cedar Falls, Iowa, South Bend, Ind. and Davenport, Iowa, brings one night in music to roaring life. Think jukebox musical spiked with history. On Dec. 6, 1956, those four musicians gathered at Sun Records Studio in Memphis, the kind of gathering one might think could only happen in a playwright's imagination. It happened, although "Million Dollar Quartet" takes plenty of creative liberties with that session. Timelines are condensed for our consideration. Exchanges that likely never happened are trotted out for our approval. And the appearance of Presley's then gal-pal (xxxxxx) added one more incredible voice to the blend. "Quartet" teases cultural issues swirling around the event, like Presley's ability to tap into a musical strain previously explored by black artists. We're also told about the revolutionary nature of rock, its primal scream potential that would be more fully realized in decades to come. It's a smattering of subtext that gets bludgeoned by the songs. But oh, those songs! "Great Balls of Fire." "Hound Dog." "Whole Lotta Shaking Going On." xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx The show's key players, all seasoned musicians, inhabit their characters without getting lost in the impersonations. In an age when your second cousin likely works the Elvis impersonator circuit that's no mean feat. (Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)My fellow dads came of age with iTunes, Pandora and Spotify, advances that would have made our dads green with envy.

What we missed was the birth of rock courtesy of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis. Our dads watched it all from the comfort of their easy chairs.

Million Dollar Quartet” is the next best thing to seeing them on “The Ed Sullivan Show.”

The touring musical, now playing at The Buell Theatre in Denver through March 9, 2014 before moving on to Cedar Falls, Iowa, South Bend, Ind. and Davenport, Iowa, brings one magical night to swingin’ life.


This jukebox musical is spiked by history. On Dec. 6, 1956, those four musicians gathered at Sun Records Studio in Memphis, the kind of event that sounds too good to be true. It happened all the same, although “Million Dollar Quartet” takes plenty of creative liberties with that jam session.

Timelines are condensed for our consideration. Exchanges that likely never happened are trotted out for our approval. And the appearance of Presley’s then gal-pal (Kelly Lamont) adds one more incredible voice to the blend.

“Quartet” teases cultural issues swirling around the meeting, like Presley tapping into a musical mojo previously explored by black artists. We’re also told about rock’s revolutionary appeal, a primal scream to be heard for decades to come.

That subtext that gets bludgeoned by the crush of songs. But oh, those songs! “Great Balls of Fire.” “Hound Dog.” “Whole Lotta Shaking Going On.” “Ring of Fire.” “That’s All Right.”

The show’s key players, all seasoned musicians who play as if they’ve been jamming together for years, inhabit their parts without getting lost in their iconic roles. It’s hard to pick a standout in the foursome. Lee Ferris’ duplicates Perkins’ gait and guitar riffs, and his comic timing is keen while battling that upstart behind the piano.

John Countryman plays up Lewis’ cartoonish side, from his optimism to that curious marital history. Scott Moreau’s Cash, the patriarch of the unlikely Quartet, has the booming baritone down so cold you could wake him from a nap and he’d nail “Ring of Fire.”

Cody Ray Slaughter doesn’t shy from Presley’s signature moves. He does ‘em all, and the effect is startling. In an age when your second cousin likely works the Elvis impersonator circuit that’s impressive.

Vince Nappo’s Sam Phillips, the musical guru who assembled those raw talents in the first place, isn’t the compelling figure he’s meant to be. Nappo’s lines can be difficult to make out, and the character as written doesn’t resonate as required. “Million Dollar Quartet” is as shiny as the jackets worn during the rollicking encore. Too bad that razzle dazzle can’t hide the show’s most punishing flaw.

“Million Dollar Quartet” is first and foremost a visceral experience, and it would be a grand experiment for fathers to take their children to the show. Will the lads bounce in their seats like teenyboppers of yore? Or, would they pine for that auto tune sound seeping from their iPods? My money is squarely on Presley, Cash, Perkins and Lewis.

(Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel)

Comments

  1. Maureen Toto says

    You nailed it. Such a wonderful, enjoyable show. The stars were terrific. The only girl in the show belted out Fever like nothing else. Her moves were just the best. Elvis’s profile was right on. Johnny Cash strumming with Ring of Fire was deadly. His signature of holding the guitar up to his face was just overwhelming. Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were just phenoms. I would see the show again. Thanks for taking me as your date.

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