ROCK ‘n’ roll jukebox musicals are ten a penny, but from the moment Million Dollar Quartet opens with a blistering rendition of Blue Suede Shoes, it’s clear this production is in a different class.
Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street
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It’s December 4, 1956. The night Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley made rock ‘n’ roll history by jamming together in the studio of Sun Records.
Brought together by the man who discovered them, producer Sam Phillips, played by Jason Donovan.
The story is light: Having sold Elvis to save Sun Records, Phillips has gathered his boys together with the aim of exerting pressure on Johnny Cash to sign a new three year deal, unaware Cash has already signed with rival label Columbia, as has his King of Rockabilly, Perkins.
Left with just one property, the as yet untried and untested Jerry Lee Lewis, all is not as happy as first appears in the Sun Records studio.
Of course, the story is simply a mechanic to revisit some classic rock ‘n’ roll songs and boy do this cast do them proud.
Playing their respective instruments live, they deliver the authentic sound of the day.
While Donovan proves a warm and engaging storyteller, narrating the events of the night, Martin Kaye’s Jerry Lee Lewis is a show-stealing bundle of dynamic energy, blessed with all the best one-liners.
Sparring throughout with Matthew Wycliffe’s statesman-like Carl Perkins, the pair boast an electric on stage chemistry.
Into the mix, Robbie Durham’s Johnny Cash and Ross William Wild’s young Elvis are equally convincing.
All channel the essence of their characters with uncanny closeness.
Backed by Ben Cullingworth on drums and James Swinnerton on bass, the group are a super tight sextet, or seven piece when joined by Katie Ray’s Dyanne, she may be Elvis’ backing singer and girlfriend, but when Ray belts out her sizzling take on Peggy Lee favourite Fever, she burns brighter than anyone else on the stage.
All this is played out on David Farley’s compact, yet effective set. Dwarfed by the vast blackness of the Festival Theatre stage it’s like looking through a portal into another time.
David Howe’s lighting design too is impressive, helping bring each song alive.
And of course, it’s the songs most have come to hear.
Peace In the Valley gets a spontanious ‘Wow’ from one audience member. I Walk the Line, another crowd pleaser. By the time we get to Great Balls of Fire, the passion of the cast is plain to see and it’s infectious.
Hound Dog starts the big finale with the audience on their feet and clapping along. It’s followed by Ghost Riders in the Sky and See You Later Alligator, both reinforce just what a display of supreme musicianship Million Dollar Quartet is, a production that lifts the heart and rocks the soul.
Run ends Saturday