Million Dollar Quartet at the 1000 Islands Playhouse
What is the Million Dollar Quartet? It was an actual day in history, December 4, 1956- in Memphis, TN when Elvis Presley (Michael Vanhevel), Johnny Cash (Jesse Macmillan), Carl Perkins (Joshua Wiles) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Calvin Laveck) met at Sun Records Recording studio and played music together. This show, which is more of a concert with a thin story thread, is a great crowd pleaser. The thin line between show and concert is often demonstrated by the audience’s reaction to the musical numbers. Enthusiastic audience members, many of them septuagenarians, clap and sway to the classic rock beat. A woman near me was sitting perfectly still and proper as if in church; but almost immediately after the first number began she came alive and began to clap; as if she had turret’s syndrome triggered by a snappy rendition of “Blue Suede Shoes.”
How much you enjoy Million Dollar Quartet may depend on your age, your knowledge of rock music history, or your taste in music. Regardless of tastes, this production is difficult to dislike. Along with the music legends mentioned above, the cast includes Sam Phillips, the head of Sun Records (played by Jonathan Patterson), Dyanne, Elvis’ current young girlfriend (Shruti Kothari) and two house musicians Fluke (Pieter Huyer) and Brother Jay (Jason O’Brien). A jam session that features both group numbers and solos; the story is really a snapshot in time of not only the four musicians’ careers, but also rock and roll itself.
How much the actors resemble the real musicians is irrelevant. As a matter of fact, a closer resemblance may actually be a hindrance, because you then expect them to sound like the real thing. A vague resemblance and a hint of personality, but good singing chops without mimicking; are enough to carry this show home. The energy and respect for the material go a long, long way here; with Laveck’s Lewis a hoot, with his riotous, rowdy rebellious nature. MacMillan has a resemblance to Cash, but he seems much shorter; the fact that I noticed this is an example of a resemblance sometimes hindering the casting, ironically.
All cast members are top notch and the 1000 islands playhouse once again proves its musical chops with the great orchestrations and excellent sound design here. Furthermore, director Rob Kempson’s direction is polished and fluid and his light hand often makes the action and breakout into music seem spontaneous and fresh.
This show is infectious, energetic, and really rocks, not just figuratively, but it does that too.