Broadway World Review

MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at The John W. Engeman Theater

January 28, 2020
By Melissa Giordano

Now in the middle of their spectacular fourteenth season, the John W. Engeman Theatre continues to dazzle with an excellent rendition of Million Dollar Quartet. It is a dramatization of a real jam session between Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins. The Engeman’s terrific incarnation of the jukebox musical by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott runs through March 1st at the exquisite Northport venue.

Among the top-notch cast is Sam Sherwood as Carl Perkins, Sky Seals as Johnny Cash, Noel Carey as Jerry Lee Lewis, and Sean Michael Buckley as Elvis. They are all excellent, but please don’t expect them to look exactly like the legends. It is apparent who each gentleman portrays. The historic jam session that evening was arranged by Sam Phillips, portrayed by Luke Darnell. Sam is the head of Sun Records and noted as a founder of Rock and Roll.

Sarah Ellis is also superb as Dyanne, Elvis’ girlfriend. The rest of the brilliant cast is completed by Corey Kaiser, who portrays Brother Jay (Carl Perkins’ brother who plays the bass for recording sessions) and David Sonneborn, who portrays Fluke, on drums. It is refreshing and amazing to see that the cast is the orchestra. The interaction makes it apparent they’re enjoying the time in this show.

As for Mr. Andrews’ creative team, Jordan Janota puts his “spin” on Sun Studio. In a stationary set, an elevated studio sits upstage with microphones and other studio equipment making up the jam session floor. Enhanced beautifully by John Burkland’s lighting and Dustin Cross’ costumes, the production is truly gorgeous.

You will not be disappointed when you catch a performance at the Engeman. And, you’ll be dancing in your seats with the music that includes “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Hound Dog”, and “Great Balls Of Fire”. The stunning theatre, a heart-tugging story, and a top-notch cast make for a thrilling night of theatre.

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The Theatre Guide Review

Million Dollar Quartet – John W. Engeman Theater – Theatre Review

January 27, 2020
By Kristen Weyer

When: December 4th, 1956. Where: Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. What: The impromptu jam session of four legendary musicians. This famous evening would mark the only time in history that Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis ever played together, inspiring the musical Million Dollar Quartet, now playing at The Engeman Theater. This fabulous musical, with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, is directed and choreographed here by Keith Andrews.

This show is predominantly an incredible concert given by these four artists. It does however, contain an overarching plotline: the decision over the fate of Sun Records. The show is narrated by music producer, and Sun Records owner, Sam Phillips. Sam address the audience at numerous moments throughout the production describing the events of, and leading up to, that evening. At the same time, he is agonizing over an important offer from RCA Records to buy Sun Records and have Sam come work for them. While he struggles to decide what to do, we are introduced to the four icons. We are informed of fascinating backgrounds and history, and given an insider’s view to the events of that night all the while being treated to a plethora of amazing music.

This cast does a marvelous job, performing beautifully with stunning vocal and musical talent. They are: Sam Sherwood as Carl Perkins, Sky Seals as Johnny Cash, Noel Carey as Jerry Lee Lewis and Sean Michael Buckley as Elvis Presley, with Luke Darnell as Sam Phillips, Sarah Ellis as the lovely Dyanne, David Sonneborn as drummer Fluke and Corey Kaiser as Brother Jay. They give wonderful characterization, with intelligent portrayals and accurate comedic timing. Also, rest assured that you will not be subjected to painful and over-the-top impersonations in this performance. Sherwood, Seals, Carey and Buckley portray these iconic figures with an ease and grace that makes it easy to believe them, while stopping short of full impersonations. Don’t worry though, Elvis still says “Thank you very much”.

Don’t overlook the other characters in this show though, and indeed their performances are such that you won’t be able to. Luke Darnell plays Sam Phillips with expressiveness and charm. Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, is portrayed by Sarah Ellis whose stunning vocals happily impress more than once. The recording studio musicians playing “back-up” for the four stars are Carl Perkins’ brother, Jay, on bass, and Fluke on the drums, portrayed with talent by Corey Kaiser and David Sonneborn.

A nicely accurate set by designer Jordan Janota, and attractive and time period appropriate costume design by Dustin Cross compliments the action. Sound Design by Laura Shubert gives that concert feel.

Whether these are the artists and songs of your youth, or possibly your first introduction to them, Million Dollar Quartet is a superb evening of theater for all. From “Blue Suede Shoes”, “I Walk the Line” and “Hound Dog” to “Great Balls of Fire”, this incredible piece of music history comes alive on the stage before your eyes and transports you back to another time. This show is fascinating and fabulous fun.

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The Observer Review

Come one, come all, there’s a hit at the Engeman

January 23, 2020
By David Ambro

The John W. Engeman Theater at Northport has provided us with a high level of entertainment for a long time, but the show that is there right now is by far the best live music this town has ever seen.

Million Dollar Quartet is a show about a jam session December 4, 1956 at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, a recording studio made famous by Sam Phillips, the Father of Rock ‘n Roll. In the studio are rock legends Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley, all protégés of Mr. Phillips. They are all there for different reasons, Carl Perkins to record a song, Johnny Cash to tell Mr. Phillips he is leaving for a new contract at Columbia Records, Elvis to try to talk Mr. Phillips into coming with him to RCA Records in New York, and Jerry Lee Lewis there to launch his musical career.

Though emotions run high and low, what they all have in common is an appreciation, admiration and respect for their mentor, and it is those feelings for Mr. Phillips that sparks the music.

The quartet of superstars is accompanied at the studio by Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne, who performs vocals, Carl Perkins’ brother Jay who plays the bass, and Fluke on the drums. They tell the story of rock n’ roll history, the meteoric rise of each performer’s career, biographical flashbacks about their lives and their upbringings, including a commonality they share from the death of loved ones and how that affected their lives.

Beyond the storyline though, Million Dollar Quartet is a rock concert by a talented cast of musicians who awe the audience with classic music, from solos to quartets. And after the recording session seems to be done and the studio goes black, they jump back on stage for an encore that caps off the show in classic concert style.

This is no doubt one of the best shows the Engeman Theater has ever brought us. Buy your tickets now because when word gets out about how good this is they are going to be hard to find.

The cast of Million Dollar Quartet is special in that every one of the performers is an Actors Equity professional. That tells you something. But better than that, they are all tremendous at what they do.

Jerry Lee Lewis is played by Noel Carey. It’s a tough part to play because Jerry Lee Lewis is a bit weird in real life, and in the scripted lines Mr. Carey emotes through it, but he is one of the most talented musicians ever to hit Main Street in Northport Village. Mr. Carey is probably one of the most exciting rock n’ roll pianists around, and he couples that with a melodic voice that is worth the price of admission alone.

Carl Perkins is played by Sam Sherwood. He is the music captain of the show and it’s easy to see why. Mr. Sherwood plays the electric guitar with such skill and spirit that it is a performance theater lovers and music enthusiasts can’t miss.

Sky Seals plays Johnny Cash, not the old slow singing Johnny Cash many of us remember, but the young up-and-coming Johnny Cash full of vim and vigor, and Seals delivers on some solo classics that are tremendous: Folsom Prison Blues, Sixteen Tons and I Walk the Line among them.

Sean Michael Buckley plays Elvis, and it is also at a time when he is at his prime, the hottest rock n roll idol and movie star in America at the time. In mannerism, Mr. Buckley brings us a real Elvis, but like the rest of the cast he is a tremendous musician, a wonderful acoustic guitarist, and like Johnny Cash, he delivers some classic solos that are terrific, Hound Dog, Long Tall Sally, Peace in the Valley to name a few.

Sarah Ellis plays Dyanne, and although she is not a star of the 1956 rock era, she is a star on the Engeman stage. Ms. Ellis is both a tremendous actor and a fantastic singer, who enhances this magical quartet of superstars, and also fills the stage with solo performances of Fever and I Hear You Knockin.

This is a show that crosses the generational divide with rock n’ roll that livens the spirit. Beyond their individual performances, the quartet delivers the million dollar billing with such classics as Down By the Riverside, I Shall Not Be Moved, one of my favorites, Party and Peace in the Valley.

Again, this is a tremendous show not to be missed. If you do, you’ve let one of Engeman’s best pass you by.

Times of Huntington-Northport Review

Theater Review: The Engeman’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ is a musical treasure

January 23, 2020
By Rita J. Egan

The folks at the John W. Engeman Theater at Northport have brought back the golden age of rock ‘n’ roll in its latest offering, “Million Dollar Quartet.” The show, which debuted on Jan. 16, celebrates four iconic musical legends with a sensational cast masterfully directed by Keith Andrews.

With book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the production is inspired by the music of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and that historic day of Dec. 4, 1956, when a series of events created the stuff dreams are made of for many music lovers.

Recognized as one of the greatest improv jam sessions ever, it was on that fateful day that Perkins and Lewis were recording at Sun Studio in Memphis when Cash stopped by to break the news to owner Sam Phillips that he was leaving the studio’s record label. If that wasn’t enough, Presley stopped by on the way to his mother’s house with his girlfriend Dyanne on his arm.

On Broadway from April 2010 until June 2011, “Million Dollar Quartet” was nominated for three Tony Awards in 2010. That year Levi Kreis won the Best Featured Actor in a Musical award for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Right from the opening number of “Blue Suede Shoes” sung by Sam Sherwood (Carl Perkins), Sky Seals (Johnny Cash), Noel Carey (Jerry Lee Lewis) and Sean Michael Buckley (Elvis Presley), the audience knows they are in for a real treat. With classic rock songs such as the opening number, “That’s All Right,” “I Walk the Line” and “Great Balls of Fire,” it’s hard to choose a favorite. Each of the talented actors recognizes just how important it is to bring the spirits of these musicians to the stage, and they were spot-on during every number.

During last Saturday’s performance the foursome sounded especially beautiful when they sang “Down by the Riverside.” Sarah Ellis as Dyanne also served up steamy versions of “Fever” and “I Hear You Knockin,” and provides a refreshing female presence with her friendly portrayal of one of very few people, Marilyn Evans, who witnesses the recording.

Luke Darnell as Phillips is charming as he also serves as narrator, filling the audience in on Dec. 4, 1956, and how he met each of the singers and recognized their unique talents. He also portrays the character with a sense of integrity that leaves the sentiment that the Sun Records and studio owner truly cared about the music and not just the money.

Sherwood plays Carl Perkins with a good amount of cockiness, which is appropriate considering Perkins wrote and first recorded “Blue Suede Shoes” before Elvis Presley became known for the tune after performing it on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Buckley as Presley has all the right moves that the King was known for and also captures how down-to-earth the singer was.

In the role of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carey performs the eccentric singer from Louisiana to the hilt, which garnered plenty of laughs from the audience and captures the wild and controversial side of the musician perfectly. Seals’ Johnny Cash is stoic and gentlemanly and also has a knack for holding the guitar high like Cash did when playing the instrument.

David Sonneborn and Corey Kaiser as musicians Fluke and Brother Jay, respectively, round out the cast perfectly. Both are “Million Dollar Quartet” veterans as Kaiser played Brother Jay on Broadway and was part of Off-Broadway, national and regional productions, and Sonneborn is an original cast member of the national tour.

As the story ends, the entire cast, including Darnell on harmonica, puts on a performance that feels as if the audience was transported to a concert back in time. On press opening night, Buckley was adorable, flirting with an audience member like Elvis would do during “Hound Dog.” Those in attendance also couldn’t help singing along to “Ghostriders in the Sky,” “See You Later Alligator” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

Jordan Janota has cleverly crafted a set that seamlessly transitions from the interior of Sun Studio to the exterior, and costume designer Dustin Cross has chosen outfits that capture the personality of each singer, and the costumes during the last few songs are absolutely fabulous, especially Ellis’ dress.

“Million Dollar Quartet” at the Engeman is the ideal choice for a night out on the town and also shares an interesting peek into life in the mid-50s. Woven into the story of the legends’ lives is a bit of American history with mentions of the cost of living at the time and the influence of gospel music on rock ‘n’ roll musicians.

Phillips tells Dyanne that Sun Studio “is where the soul of a man never dies” toward the end of the musical. At the Engeman, the extraordinarily talented cast has celebrated and honored the souls of all of these legends — both living and passed — wonderfully.

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