Theatre Review - 'Million Dollar Quartet'

Posted on: 09 March 2011 by Alexander Hay

Four giants in music come together in this new musical

Rockabilly 'till you're silly in Million Dollar Quartet

Fame, friendship, discovery, divided loyalties and incredible music are all contained in Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux's exuberantly entertaining, Tony Award-winning jukebox musical Million Dollar Quartet (Noel Coward Theatre), directed by Eric Schaeffer.

Inspired by actual events that took place on December 4 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis when four of the music industry's most extraordinary talents – Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins – all in their creative prime, made music together for the first and only time in their careers.

The legendary meeting was masterminded by Sun Records' founder Sam Phillips, who had turned an old radiator shop into the pioneering Sun studio and had discovered all four of the musicians, and brought Elvis Presley (and his then-girlfriend) back to the recording studio that launched him to stardom. Elvis had already been sold to RCA Records and achieved fame in Hollywood, and the others now accept it is time to move on.

Although this show pinpoints the professional jealousies and tensions within the group – Johnny Cash was a fast-rising superstar at the time, Carl Perkins was still chasing his next best hit after writing and recording Blue Suede Shows, while Jerry Lee Lewis was about to make his name on the rock and roll scene – what we are presented with on stage is a celebration of a golden era of music. Indeed, this show succeeds in capturing the spirit of these seminal figures who would go on to change the course of popular music.

Director Eric Schaeffer achieves a fine balance between the songs and the stories behind them. The music is recreated in an enjoyably vigorous style with the hits coming thick and fast: Great Balls of Fire, I Walk the Line, Hound Dog, See You Later Alligator, Fever, Memories Are Made of This, That's All Right, Down By The Riverside, Riders in the Sky and, of course, Blue Suede Shoes.

The performances go beyond mere impersonations and indeed the cast performs with great verve and panache. Ben Goddard stands out as Lewis (the only surviving member of the quartet), conveying the anarchic wildness, forthright attitude and unshakeable commitment to his music, Derek Hagan perfectly captures Johnny Cash’s rich, deep voice, and Robert Britton Lyons, the only American member of the cast, impresses as the less well known Perkins, while Michael Malarkey may not physically resemble Elvis, who was much taller, but manages to sound like him, being both smooth and sultry. Bill Ward is excellent as Sam Phillips, described by one of the group as “the father of rock 'n roll”.

In short, this affectionate tribute to a poignant moment in the past is one hell of a good show!

Box Office: 0844 482 5141

Press: Jo Allan PR 0207 243 6176

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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