THEATER REVIEW: 'Million Dollar Quartet' totally rocks
Fantasize for a moment: What if Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis performed together?
It’s not entirely fantasy. “Million Dollar Quartet,” at the Civic Center through July 2, is co-production between Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma City and ZACH Theatre of Austin. Part rock concert and part history, the show puts the audience in the Sun Records recording studio on Dec. 4, 1956, when Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley show up for an impromptu jam.
The event really happened, and there is a photograph to prove it. That year had been a turning point for all of these men and for Sun Records and its owner, Sam Phillips; the cusp of 1957 had many wisps of promise to tempt these recording giants, most still early in their careers, to choose between following a path they knew or striking off in new directions.
In “Million Dollar Quartet” playwrights Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux have imagined the conversations and interactions of the event, setting the four musicians and Phillips at odds with one another while also supporting one another as friends and colleagues.
This production’s cast of icon impersonators inhabits these historical musicians with a sincerity and energy that nearly resurrects the spirits of the originals. Billy Cohen does a dead-on Carl Perkins, rocking on the electric guitar. Cole gives us a young Elvis with all the swagger and charm nostalgia leads us to expect. Corbin Mayer’s young Johnny Cash is careful and accurate, if just a little too mellifluous. Gavin Rohrer almost steals the show with his hyper-energetic young Jerry Lee Lewis.
Jeff Jeffers ties the show together with his personification of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. Phillips is our narrator and storyteller, and the person whose future is most up in the air. Another singer and story motivator is Dyanne, played by Emily Farr. Dyanne shows up as Elvis’ current date; Farr delivers a “Fever” that evokes Peggy Lee and a version of “I Hear You Knockin’” that recalls Gale Storm. Acting as a foil for the situation, Dyanne leads the four members of the quartet to open up and talk about their career plans, thus moving the story along.
While the story is real and interesting, the music utterly dominates the show. Accompanied by an accomplished (and theatrical) stand-up bassist, Adam Egizi, and a drummer to beat the band, Zach Yañez, the four stars play their own instruments in the style of the originals. The resulting early style rock concert is breathtaking, and worth the price of admission even without the story.
Directed by Dave Steakley, the show is seamless and coherent, leading us through the music that made these men famous and the choices that had significant impact on the directions of their lives. The set, an evocative and representational structure, is the work of Adam Koch, and the lighting, which also helps to guide the story, is by Helena Kuukka. Jeffrey Meek’s costumes are perfectly constructed to put us in the period and to tell us who these people are.
“Million Dollar Quartet” plays in at the Oklahoma City Civic Center through July 2, with showtimes at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and 2 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. The show moves to Austin for three weeks starting at the end of July, so if you miss it here, you might catch this rockin’ show south of the Red River. For local tickets, check the Lyric web page at lyrictheatreokc.com, or call the box office at 405-524-9312.