Million Dollar Quartet is the story of Sam Phillips, played by Jason Donovan, and his record company Sun Records on the night of December 4th 1956. The performance revolves around the rock ‘n’ roll stars Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, and their night of recording that made musical history.
As soon as the curtain rises, the audience is greeted to a rousing rendition of ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ by the entire cast before Sam Phillips himself steps forward and addresses the spectators. From the outset, the audience is gripped by humour, music and strong dialogue. This walks the crowd through the historic relations between the characters and the tensions that go along with them, namely the rise, fall and comeuppance of their careers. The authentic set, accents and musical renditions create a strong sense of fifties America during the time of the rock and roll craze with true to life accuracy to detail, those without the fullest knowledge of the time period aren’t excluded from the fun, as throughout the first half of the performance we are introduced to each of the characters in turn.
Firstly, we meet Sam Phillips and his back-to-the-wall, American dream-esque background as well as his undying support and loyalty for his company. We meet the cocksure Jerry Lee Lewis who provides the comic relief throughout, the electric guitarist Carl Perkins who appears down on his luck after Elvis and accompanying girlfriend Dyanne, performs his big hit on live television without his prior knowledge. And finally we meet Johnny Cash whose God-loving songs didn’t initially catch on with Mr Phillips.
As the performance reaches the second half, the tone switches from one of jovial reunion to one of doubts, questionable loyalties and even at one point, a tender and emotional recollection of siblings and family members lost.
One of the things that stands out the most within this performance of Million Dollar Quartet is that in a show where 80% of the time you’re watching the actors playing music, it’s still not solely about the tunes. What makes Million Dollar Quartet such an interesting piece of theatre is that it is based around a group of individuals who have been praised and respected throughout the last seventy years.
This really gives the show heart as in between songs we are given a look into the lives of so many people’s heroes. Whether it be the stunted career of Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley’s going fame, the constant struggle of Johnny Cash to express his message despite his label’s rejections, or Jerry Lee Lewis just trying to get his first big break.
Slipping in these heartfelt stories amongst a platter of hit songs from the four icons is what keeps your interest. But what kind of show would it be without the hit songs? Titular numbers include Elvis Presley’s ‘Hound Dog’, Johnny Cash’s ‘Walk The Line’ along with Carl Perkins big breakthrough hit ‘Blue Suede Shoes’ and Jerry Lee Lewis’s first big hit ‘Great Balls Of Fire’.
However, the most beautiful moment of the show comes when the four stars go from joining in with one of Cash’s sessions and turn it into a four way masterpiece; made even more remarkable and striking when the original recording of said rendition is played at the end of the show.
All in all Million Dollar Quartet is a must see for hard core fans and novices alike, with enough emotion and energy to keep you entertained throughout.