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 Theatre Guide Review

Singin’ in the Rain – John W. Engeman Theater

May 22, 2018
By Kristen Weyer

The John W. Engeman Theater is closing its 11th season with that musical classic Singin’ in the Rain! This fabulous production is brilliantly directed and choreographed by Drew Humphrey and features everything you could hope for and more from this beloved show.  The iconic 1952 movie starring Gene Kelly, Donald O’Connor and Debbie Reynolds has been perfectly transferred to the stage; every one of your favorite lines, songs and dance sequences are present, and, oh yes, it is going to “rain” onstage!

It’s 1927 in the heyday of silent films, and Don Lockwood and Lina Lamont are Hollywood’s favorite film couple. Then the talking movies arrive and turn Hollywood upside down.  With their newest film about to release they must desperately convert it into a “talkie” or risk the ruination of the entire movie studio.  We’re taken on a delightful romp through the golden age of Hollywood with romance, humor, dancing, and of course, Singin’ in the Rain.

This cast is amazing.  From leads to ensemble each and every one of them was extremely impressive.  Danny Gardner is excellent as Don Lockwood, combining his charismatic and debonair manner with smooth and perfect vocals. His superb talent is obvious, especially as he sings, dances and splashes his way through that most awaited scene “Singin’in the Rain”. Tessa Grady is a lovely and captivating Kathy Selden.  Her beautiful voice and impressive dance skills are blended to perfection. Brian Shepard does the memory of Donald O’Connor proud with his portrayal of Cosmo Brown.  His charming smile and quirky grin, his excellent voice and energetic performances bring his silly, comical character to life.  As impressive as they are separately, these three together are even more so.  Their dance sequence during “Good Mornin“ is exceptional.

Emily Stockdale is brilliant as the tonally challenged Lina Lamont.  Her personae and timing were spot on.  Leer Leary is wonderful as the studio head R.F. Simpson; he portrays the perfect man in charge but somehow makes him endearing.  Comedy abounds in this amusing show, and it is not just from the leads.  Ben Prayz is flawless as the put-upon director Roscoe Dexter; Peter Surace’s portrayal of the Diction Coach makes the number “Moses Supposes”; and Britte Steele is exactly what you hope for as Dora Bailey.

The costumes in this production are simply fabulous. Designer Kurt Alger’s choices are a feast for the eyes from the wonderful 1920’s period pieces to the elaborate movie costumes they wear.  This, combined with Scenic Designer David Arsenault’s appealing set, Zach Blane’s enchanting lighting, and Laura Shubert’s excellent sound design, created the perfect ambiance.  The orchestra’s outstanding performance, under direction from Jonathan Brenner, bolstered the entire show.

From hysterical silent pictures, and excellent live performances, to that exquisite dance in the rain, Singin’ in the Rain is perfection from start to finish.  Whether you’ve seen it many times, or perhaps this might be your first, Singin’ in the Rain should not be missed.

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