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.