What would happen if four of the most influential men in music history got together and did what they loved? We actually don’t have to wonder. On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins gathered at Sun Records in Memphis. It was the first and only time the four men would play together.
“Million Dollar Quartet” is a dramatized version of that evening. They’ve tarted it up with a flimsy bit of story–will Sun Records owner Sam Phillips sell out to big, bad RCA records?–but the show is ultimately about reliving some of the most incredible music of the 20th century.
The cast of Million Dollar Quartet
There’s a moment near the end of the show where the four men sing the old gospel number “Down by the Riverside” while Perkins accompanies them on electric guitar. Just for a moment, you truly glimpse the enormity of what these men did. You see the instant that country and gospel and blues began to morph into rockabilly, that hybrid sound that would become rock ‘n’ roll.
The show is full of the songs that made these men immortal, and everyone gets a chance to shine: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” “I Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire.” In particular, “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and “Sixteen Tons” are standout company numbers. But the quiet moments are beautiful, too, like when Elvis sings “Peace in the Valley” in memory of his twin brother. The show also includes an incredibly fun holiday encore of “Run Rudolph Run,” complete with sleigh bells.
Elvis Presley (Cody Slaughter) comes complete with real hip swivel action
The cast is full of energy and love. Not only do they sound uncannily like the characters they’re portraying, they play all their own instruments, live and unaided. Elvis is actually played by Cody Slaughter, an Elvis “tribute artist” with no musical theater experience to speak of. Derek Keeling as Johnny Cash hits some incredible bass notes and exemplifies the quiet strength of the man in black. Lee Ferris as Carl Perkins has a ball, wailing on an electric guitar and wearing his trademark blue suede shoes.
But it’s Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye) who steals the show. Who would have thought that an Englishman like Kaye could play a rockabilly star from Louisiana? You can’t keep your eyes off the man. Watching his hands on the piano is worth the price of admission alone: he pounds on the keys, banging those ivories for all he’s worth. He’s full of energy and verve and bravado and is a complete delight.
Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye) steals the show with his piano playing
If you’re into big, sweeping musicals with dance numbers and lavish costumes, this isn’t the show for you. There’s one pseudo-costume change and the dancing is confined to Elvis’ hip swivels and Carl Perkins’ slide. If you go to musicals for big casts and production numbers, skip this one. The story is an afterthought and the cast is only eight strong (the four stars, Sam Phillips, a bass player, a drummer and Elvis’ girlfriend).
But if you want to get as close as possible to seeing these legends in concert, you’ll love this. If you want to relive the glory days of rock ‘n’ roll’s youth, this is for you. If you just want to get lost in some incredible music, don’t miss Million Dollar Quartet.
Million Dollar Quartet plays at the Murat Theatre at Old National Centre through December 18. For tickets, please click here. The reviewer’s tickets were provided courtesy of Broadway Across America Indianapolis. Pictures courtesy Million Dollar Quartet.