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.