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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, May 18, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 20
Million Dollar Quartet worth every penny
Arts & Entertainment
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Million Dollar Quartet worth every penny

by Eric Andrews-Katz - SGN A&E Writer

MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
PARAMOUNT THEATRE
MAY 15 - 20


When four giants of rock 'n' roll unexpectedly got together for a night of music, it was history in the making. But when the genius behind these giants tells his story, it's the stage musical Million Dollar Quartet. The Paramount Theatre brings this hit musical back to Seattle, and it's no wonder as to why. This show is a hit with great music from the era of the birth of rock.

The storyline to the musical is simple. It's based on an impromptu jam session that took place December 4, 1956, at the Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Studio owner Sam Phillips brought together four giants: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and a newcomer, Jerry Lee Lewis. The four recorded songs that night that changed the pop music world forever. But the center of the story is Phillips, who not only created gods out of these nobodies, but also had insight enough to know how to market each one.

The cast is incredible, all of them. They don't impersonate as much as become facsimiles of the rockers they are portraying. All the artists in the show play their own instruments, so when Lewis (Martin Kaye) stretches out on top of the piano playing the keys behind his back it's really him. It's the same with Perkins (Lee Ferris), Cash (Derek Keeling), and Presley (Cody Slaughter). Watching these men onstage is like being a fly on the wall of the recording studio that famous night. Each artist has a chance to shine while singing the songs that made them famous, and the classics are all here: 'Blue Suede Shoes,' 'Real Wild Child,' 'Folsom Prison Blues,' 'Who Do You Love?', and many others.

Each of the characters brings some aspect of their real-life counterparts to the stage. Presley's hip gyrations and gelled hair curl are present. Cash's deep voice and trademark black (although in the photo from that night he hadn't yet adopted that look) evoke the singer's presence. Perkins's grin and attitude bring a third dimension to his performance. But it is Martin Kaye, as Lewis, that brings the subtleties to a forefront. Even when not center-stage, his leg is stomping the floor, his irreverent and boyish behavior comes through, and his crop of unkempt blonde hair is clearly on its way to becoming a trademark.

Phillips (Christopher Ryan Grant) was the man who brought them together, either by coincidence, invitation, or manipulation. This story is really his: his genius of how to hear the artists in front of him and present them to the world. While trying to renew Johnny Cash's contract, Phillips realizes he can't hold on to the giants he created. Grant does an excellent job of showing both the pride of creating and the sorrow of losing his talented clientele. At the time of the session, Elvis' contract has already been sold to RCA, Perkins and Cash are getting ready to change labels, and Phillips is focusing most of his attention on his latest discovery, Lewis.

The musical does what it is supposed to do. It conjures an evening from the past and recreates it as well as possible. Each actor shows a strength and weakness to his character and adds to the collective, wonderful concert they are (somewhat unknowingly) performing. The end shows the famous picture taken from that night along with an actual recording of the group singing along to the classic hymn, 'Down by the Riverside.' But don't leave at the first curtain call, or the second - there's a rousing finale in which each artist brings out the song that made them great.

Million Dollar Quartet got its start at the Village Theatre in Issaquah. Transferring to Broadway, it officially opened on the Great White Way on April 11, 2010, and ran for 489 performances before moving off-Broadway, where it still runs today. Nominated for three Tony Awards including Best Musical, it won one for Levi Kreis (Jerry Lee Lewis), as Best Featured Actor in a Musical.

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