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THEATER REVIEW: 'Million Dollar Quartet' billion dollar performance!

“Million Dollar Quartet”
“Million Dollar Quartet”

On Dec. 4, 1956, Elvis Presley stopped by Sun Records to say hello to Samuel Cornelius Phillips, owner of Sun Records and the man who discovered his talent. Phillips happened to be in the studio with Carl Perkins in the process of a new recording. Perkins was experiencing a dip in sales and wanted a new hit. Sam Phillips had brought in a new talent to assist, a piano man, Jerry Lee Lewis. Johnny Cash had also happened by that afternoon. 

One thing led to another and a jam session evolved—one that Phillips wisely recorded. The result eventually became an album titled “Million Dollar Quartet,” and the evening is known as one of the greatest moments in rock and roll history.

These four distinctive talents had never played together before and would never play together again. The impromptu session also has inspired the musical “Million Dollar Quartet” and is playing at Lyric Theatre in the Thelma Gaylord Auditorium. The truly spontaneous exciting event was a one-time miraculous occurrence, and the performance re-enactment is equally exciting and almost as rare with only four days and five performances left to entertain Oklahoma City audiences.

“Million Dollar Quartet” premiered in 2010 and became an immediate favorite, earning 3 Tony Award Nominations and generating a great deal of excitement among fans of early rock and roll. The book for the production is by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, and the music is by the original magnetic artists discovered by Sam Phillips in the 1950s at Sun Records.

Dave Steakley directs “Million Dollar Quartet” for Lyric, bringing his extensive expertise in direction, musical direction and music. Steakley is Producing Artistic Director at Zach Theatre in Austin and after the Oklahoma City run the show will move to Austin. “Million Dollar Quartet” is a dramatization and not a minute-by-minute re-creation of the events and includes a composite character, Dyanne, a young woman Elvis Presley was dating at the time. In actuality, the young woman has recently been revealed as Marilyn Evans, and she was present as a spectator rather than a fellow performer.

What is quite accurate is the sense of timelessness that makes the musical a powerful reminder of the significant American contribution to rock and roll. Today we have a president who is trying to “Make America Great Again,” and “Million Dollar Quartet” is a beautiful example of Americana and what made America great in the first place. It is quite apropos that the show plays through July 1, 2017, the weekend before the fourth of July.

Appearing as Elvis is Cole, a performer who is experienced in the role having previously portrayed Elvis and, also, Johnny Cash in earlier productions. It is as Elvis that Oklahoma City audiences can easily see Cole shining. He reveals the spirit of Elvis Presley rather than performs as an Elvis impersonator, and his musicality is quite significant. Billy Cohen is a marvelous Carl Perkins and a superior musician in his own right. Corbin Mayer is Johnny Cash, an excellent performer with a voice that is sensually deep. All three of these performers must be channeling their originals rather than merely portraying them and make this production a tremendous experience. The originals may be gone; the spirits remain. Wonderfully, Jerry Lee Lewis is still with us, so Gavin Rohrer cannot actually “channel” Lewis in his performance, but Lewis must be astral projecting during the performance because Rohrer plays him perfectly with as much physicality as the original as well as superb talent.

 Sam Phillips was an inspired producer, discovering, nurturing and creating an atmosphere that allowed these excellent talents to blossom. Jeff Jeffers brings Phillips to life with sensitivity, sensibility and sensational expression. Dec. 4, 1956, is a page out of his life — a moment he knew was musically important and Jeffers lets us read that page with understanding and empathy.

Adam Egizi is Brother Jay, a studio musician at the recording. He is also the older brother of Carl Perkins, and Egizi builds on that to bring realism to his character as well as the character of Carl Perkins. He is also a superbly talented musician. Fluke sits behind and above at the drums and he is played by an excellent drummer: Zach Yaῆez. Yaῆez brings a crisp sound to the music, and he has the capacity to accompany all the different musical styles brought by the stars on the stage.

Dyanne is a composite female character written in for the piece rather than based on Marilyn Evans, the gal Elvis actually brought to Sun Records. However, she epitomizes the strength of female singers of the era — She has a big voice and she uses it exceptionally well. Emily Farr is Dyanne, and although an invention of Mutrux and Escott, she adds a larger truth in “Million Dollar Quartet” with her portrayal.

“Million Dollar Quartet” is a slice of history, a piece of Americana and American pie. The show brings to life the distinctly American rock and roll with a spicy mixture of country, gospel and pop. The actor/singers are perfectly cast and bring tears of joy to an the older audience while making years of woe disappear. The younger audience is blown away as well. The only drawback — it ends on Saturday. Tickets are going quickly, so it behooves rock and roll patriots to get their tickets right away. 

The curtain goes up at the Civic Center at 7:30 p.m. weekdays and 8 p.m. weekends. On Saturday, July 1, 2017, there are two shows: the matinee at 2 p.m. and the 8 p.m. evening performance. So, not to miss and regret, visit or call 405-297-2264 for tickets and information.  “Who Do You Love” is it “Long Tall Sally” for “I Walk the Line” amid “Great Balls of Fire” and “What Memories are Made of This.”


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Elizabeth Hurd

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