Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Sun Records founder Sam Phillips are long gone. Jerry Lee Lewis, the lone living rock ‘n’ roll legend from one improbable recording session, is 77.
But on the stage at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts this week and next, it’s Dec. 4, 1956. Four music greats are singing again. And like just about everyone in the audience, the man who launched those golden careers is thrilling to the sound of that once-in-a-lifetime quartet.
The Million Dollar Quartet – and with it the magical melding of Presley, Cash, Lewis and Perkins – is back.
After bringing its classic rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly and gospel tunes to Miami’s Arsht Center for a week at the end of last year, the Eric Schaeffer-directed Broadway hit has returned, this time with Scott Moreau lending his rich baritone to Cash hits like Folsom Prison Blues, Sixteen Tons and I Walk the Line. He joins three returning actor-musicians: Lee Ferris as the unhappy Perkins, Martin Kaye as the trouble-making Lewis and Cody Slaughter, who looks and sounds like the reincarnation of the young, hot Elvis.
Bass player Chuck Zayas and drummer Billy Shaffer are key contributors to the sound created by the four singers, but the stars deliver the goods: As we’re told at the top of the show, “Ain’t no fakin’ – these boys are really playin’.”
That real recording session is, however, just a jumping off point for The Million Dollar Quartet. The amusing but contrived script by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux injects drama and inserts songs that weren’t part of the ’56 gathering.
Christopher Ryan Grant, whose Phillips also serves as the show’s reminiscing narrator, gets to fume and dither as the famous man’s plans to re-sign Cash and maybe work with Presley again go awry. As Dyanne, the girlfriend of the moment that Elvis brings with him to the studio, sultry Kelly Lamont is given a look based on the famous photo of the gal Elvis put the moves on in a theater stairwell – though that took place six months before the Million Dollar Quartet’s session. The character is also turned into a singer, so Dyanne gets to spell the boys with sexed-up versions of Fever and I Hear You Knocking. Lamont’s performance is just fine, but when a show boasts stars who sound like Lewis, Perkins, Cash and Presley, Dyanne’s numbers feel like the filler they are.
The real joy in The Million Dollar Quartet lies in watching and listening as those “boys” work their magic, separately and together. Kaye (who happens to be British) is a wild and wildly self-confident young man as he pounds the piano and sings the Lewis hits Real Wild Child, Great Balls of Fire and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On. Ferris, a great guitarist, gets Perkins’ mix of talent and frustration on Blue Suede Shoes, Who Do You Love, See You Later Alligator and other tunes. Moreau is taciturn and musically impressive as the man in black. And Slaughter, whose program bio reveals he was named the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist of 2011 by Elvis Presley Enterprises, does early-vintage, hip-swiveling Presley proud on Memories Are Made of This, That’s All Right, Long Tall Sally, Hound Dog and more.
The Million Dollar Quartet doesn’t soar to the heights of Jersey Boys, still the best of the jukebox musicals. Yet though Million Dollar plays with the particular truths of a legendary session, the show’s musical pleasures are quite real, abundant and enjoyable.