On December 4, 1956, four legendary musicians ended up at the same recording studio in what turned into the dream jam session. In 2010, the historic day made history once again with its own Broadway show. And on Tuesday evening, the touring production of Million Dollar Quartet brought all the energy and revolutionary music of the twentieth century to the Sacramento Community Center, a strong beginning to a fabulous week of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.
The random recording session may not seem like much of a plot, but quick flashbacks led by Sun Records owner Sam Phillips give audiences strong insights into the icons and each actor makes an instant impression on audiences with spot on, yet unique versions of the legendary rock and country singers. And a bit of drama showcasing the conflicting big time record labels and the small record label that gave the artists their start adds just enough dialogue to make the show more of a true musical than a tribute band.
That dialogue sometimes cuts in on the music, making many of the show’s numbers seem too short, but its function in the show makes it worthwhile as it keeps viewers deeply invested in the characters. A four-song finish in the fashion of Mamma Mia’s famed encore gives each star his chance to show off, and gives the audience those much awaited, uninterrupted big concert numbers. After over an hour and a half of nonstop entertainment, the studded finale is enough to make all those crazy fans swoon. With such upbeat music, it’s difficult not to break out into song and dance throughout the show. All that pent up excitement gets the chance to come out when actors invite the audience to clap and sing with them, culminating in the infamous announcement that “the King has left the building.”
But there’s more than one king of rock and roll in this blazing tour de force featuring a host of classic hits including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues” and “Great Balls of Fire.” The musical even has a queen found in Elvis’ girl, Dyanne (played by Kelly Lamont). Lamont glides over her notes like melted butter on fresh biscuits in “Fever.” With just two solos, Lamont amazes with a lot of voice in a short amount of time. Christopher Grant also gives a memorable performance as the recording guru Sam Phillips. After stepping out during all the musical numbers of the show, Grant suddenly joins in the finale, whipping out a harmonica to play with as much soul and ferocity as the rest of the cast.
Named Elvis Presley Enterprises’ Ultimate Elvis Tribute Arts of 2011, Cody Slaughter bends his knees and sways his hips with ease as Elvis. Derek Keeling was a runner up in NBC’s reality show to find the leads for Broadway’s revival of Grease. He later played the leading man in both the Broadway and touring productions of the show. His talent was always clear, but most listeners are in for a shocker when the deep bass voice of Johnny Cash comes out of the man best known for playing T-Bird Danny Zuko. Keeling delivers a profound portrayal of the Man in Black, standing out from start to finish.
Lee Ferris brings a lot of friendly humor to the show as Carl Perkins, the man who wrote “Blue Suede Shoes.” Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis (played by Martin Kaye) light up the stage with their instrumental wars, Ferris on the guitar and Kaye on the piano. The creators of the show chose well when they ended it with an encore spotlighting the Jerry Lee Lewis character. Levi Kreis, who originated the role on Broadway, won a Tony award for his performance, and understandably so. Throughout the show, Kaye not only portrays the most cocky and enjoyable character, he also covers all the tricks with his piano, playing the instrument standing up, facing backwards and in other various positions. Kaye carries the show with his sparky attitude, high energy and outstanding piano playing.