On 1st June, I visited my local theatre to see the current UK Tour of Million Dollar Quartet, a musical based on the events of the night of December 4th 1956, when Sun Records founder Sam Phillips brought together Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis by complete chance for an impromptu jam session which would become one of the most famous events of music history, especially in the world of rock and roll. The musical was first seen on Broadway in 2010, before transferring Off-Broadway in 2011, and to the West End in the same year, where it ran for a year.
The show was conceived by Floyd Mutrux, who also co-wrote the book with Colin Escott, and they have managed to create a jukebox musical that doesn’t feel tacky or cheap, or as though it’s just an easy money grab. While the action is limited (although it does get heated at several occasions in the second act), what can be expected when the show is based on a one night recording session? Although the first act felt clunky and slightly repetitive at times due to the way it is presented (first half of a song is done, then interrupted by Sam Phillips describing how he met the artist, then the song continues – still very entertaining, I must add, just repetitive and clunky to me), the second act felt much more coherent and well thought out, with some quite moving moments which I must say I wasn’t expecting in the slightest (the final moment before the curtain call being particularly powerful).
The headliner of the tour so far has been TV, music and stage star Jason Donovan in the role of Sam Phillips. Donovan doesn’t sing in this show, meaning his acting skills are on full show and he doesn’t disappoint. He shows off a consistent American accent and shines in the second act when things start to go downhill for him with some quite powerful acting. The “King of Rock and Roll”, Elvis Presley, is played by Ross William Wild who emulates his voice and persona perfectly, getting a huge response from the audience for his amazing performance. Alongside him as the influential “King of Rockabilly”, Carl Perkins, is ex-Jersey Boy Matthew Wycliffe who, similarly to Wild, emulates Perkins to a tee, showing off his amazing voice and great guitar skills, resulting in another thoroughly enjoyable performance.
Robbie Durham plays icon Johnny Cash and he does it brilliantly, portraying Cash’s calm demeanour extremely well, in addition to his iconic bass-baritone voice. Durham in particular has some stand-out acting moments when his calm demeanour drops and lashes out at Jerry Lee Lewis. Speaking of the loud and brash pianist from Ferriday, Louisiana, Lewis is played by Ashley Carruthers, who gets the majority of the humorous moments with his well-timed delivery and exuberant nature, whilst showing off excellent piano skills and his great voice. Wild, Wycliffe, Durham and Carruthers all deserve huge amounts of praise for the outstanding performances they give, playing their instruments live and paying homage to the real life stars they are portraying.
Standing out amongst the male-dominated show is Katie Ray who plays the fictional Dyanne, Elvis’ girlfriend (a stand-in for the real life Marilyn Evans). Her voice is absolutely stunning and she blew myself and the rest of the audience away with her renditions of Fever and I Hear You Knocking. Joining the 6 actors onstage are Ben Cullingworth as Fluke, the drummer, and James Swinnerton as Jay Perkins, the bassist and brother of Carl Perkins, who are also thoroughly entertaining throughout.
This production has been directed by Ian Talbot and he has done a brilliant job. It seems easy for this show to turn into a tribute concert to the artists involved and Talbot does a great job of making sure this doesn’t happen, keeping it realistic and natural. Lizzi Gee, credited as the Movement Director, does the best with what she can, the small amounts of natural choreography being very well done. The set and costumes have been designed by David Farley and they are great, the static set being especially effective, as is the lighting, designed by David Howe, which during the dialogue is completely natural but becomes concert-like during the songs which I personally loved. The sound designer, Ben Harrison, also deserves credit as the songs sound absolutely brilliant, very much like what they would’ve sounded like back in the day, even though some of the dialogue was at times underpowered.
Million Dollar Quartet is a thoroughly enjoyable musical that is sure to put a smile on anyone’s face. The performances are brilliant and deserve huge amounts of praise. The tour will take a break over the summer but returns at the of September, travelling to York (19th – 23rd September), Hornchurch (25th – 30th September), Cheltenham (2nd – 7th October), High Wycombe (9th – 14th October), Inverness (16th – 21st October), Edinburgh (24th – 28th Ocotber), Eastbourne (30th October – 4th November), Poole (14th – 18th November) and Ipswich (20th – 25th November). Be sure to check the website for updates on cast information – http://milliondollarquartetlive.co.uk/