When the nights are still long, the skies mostly grey and the world seems to have gone to hell in a handcart thank the Lord for shows like Million Dollar Quartet! This is pure entertainment – an undemanding and joyous celebration of Rock and Roll. For those of us of a “certain age” – and this reviewer was mostly among his peer group at Richmond – the mid to late 1950s were the time that popular music really began. Where hitherto the charts had been dominated by the likes of Frankie Laine, Doris Day and Perry Como suddenly, at the end of 1955, the glimmerings of a revolution appeared when Bill Haley rocked it to the top. Then the following year there was Elvis – and the musical world was never quite the same again.
In Million Dollar Quartet, a heavily fictionalised presentation of a Jam Session at Sun Studios Memphis in December 1956, the legendary recording studio owner Sam Phillips says “Kids don’t want to listen to their Mum and Dad’s records anymore”. The baby boomers were growing up and we demanded something new! Sun’s stable included Presley and Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis and it is true – they did meet up just this once and they played together. There is some doubt over whether Johnny Cash actually joined in (other than for the photo) and certainly his involvement is grossly exaggerated in Million Dollar Quartet – but no matter. This is “inspired by real events” territory and plenty of poetic licence is surely allowable?
Million Dollar Quartet is a “Jukebox Musical” – a slightly derogatory sounding term which describes a show in which the plot is subservient to the songs. I prefer to see it for what it really is – a great celebration of a musical genre, and a brief moment in time, through its songs. There is no plot to speak of – this is a rock concert. Sam Phillips is played by Jason Donovan who masters the accent well and convinces. Ross William Wild’s performance as Elvis, particularly his singing voice, is spookily good. He doesn’t look that much like Presley – who does – but he gets the audience rocking along. Robbie Durham as Johnny Cash is deep in voice and proficient on acoustic guitar and provides a country music and gospel-influenced contrast to the harder rock – he says he doesn’t want to “Sound like everyone else” – and doesn’t. Matthew Wycliffe’s (Carl Perkins) main contribution is his stunning lead guitar playing and his rather grumpy air – a consequence of his one great hit – “Blue Suede Shoes” – having been stolen by Elvis! But for me the star of the show was the Jerry Lee Lewis of Australian Ashley Carruthers (what a splendidly Wodehousian name to play this most American of characters!) Jerry Lee Lewis is the new brat on the block and not hindered by humility – or lack of talent. He attacks the piano to the manor born his right leg bouncing up and down extravagantly to the rhythm. Quite superb. A word of praise too for Katie Ray who plays Elvis’s girlfriend Dyanne and sings a couple of numbers herself – very well.
This is a concert by some consummate musicians – there are over twenty numbers all played and sung well. It is a sign of my misspent youth that I knew them all and sang along occasionally. These are characters and their music who will endure when lesser talents fade away. Million Dollar Quartet commemorates them – but there is nothing of the memorial about this show. This is time travel to a foreign country where Rock and Roll ruled the roost! It’s a trip well worth taking.
Review by Paddy Briggs
Following its success in the West End, Las Vegas and on Broadway, Million Dollar Quartet is coming, starring Jason Donovan! This worldwide smash-hit musical is inspired by the famous recording session that brought together rock ‘n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for the first and only time.
On December 4, 1956, these four-star musicians gathered at Sun Records in Memphis for what would be one of the greatest jam sessions ever. Million Dollar Quartet, written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, brings that legendary night to life, featuring a score of rock hits including Blue Suede Shoes, Fever, That’s All Right, Sixteen Tons, Great Balls of Fire, Walk the Line, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Who Do You Love?, Matchbox, Folsom Prison Blues, Hound Dog and many more.
Don’t miss your chance to discover the true story of one unforgettable night that made rock’n’roll history!
Million Dollar Quartet
6th to 11th February 2017
Richmond Theatre, Richmond, London
13th to 18th February 2017
Liverpool Empire, Liverpool
28th March to 1st April 2017
New Victoria Theatre, Woking
10th to 15th April 2017
Theatre Royal Brighton, Brighton
15th to 20th May 2017
Palace Theatre Manchester, Manchester