A Rocket Ship Out of Orbit!
“Million Dollar Quartet,” the Colin Escott/Floyd Mutrux mega-hit jukebox musical set during the first and only meeting of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis at the Sun Records recording studio owned by the man who made it all happen, music impresario Sam Phillips, opened Wednesday night in a terrific new James Moye directed production at Marriott Theater Lincolnshire.
The now familiar flashpoint, a photograph of the quartet taken on December 4, 1956, serves as the catalyst to tell the backstory of the professional relationships, the choice Phillips made to sell Presley's contract to RCA, how Columbia eventually signed both Cash and Perkins, and the pursuit of the next big hit for Perkins, the reason for the recording session in the first place. It’s all packed in here and interesting enough, but the pure abundant joy of this rock-solid production is the explosive musical performances. For that, a multi-talented cast is critical and Moye (who played Phillips in both the original Broadway and Off-Broadway productions) with music director Ryan T. Nelson, have assembled a stunner. All together, “Million Dollar Quartet” soars into uncharted musical territory like a rocket ship out of orbit!
A consummate piano man, Nat Zegree delivers a standout performance, literally propelling himself into the role of Jerry Lee Lewis capturing the unbridled energy and explosive musical talent of the young performer on the verge of launching his meteoric career.
The brilliant musician, singer and actor, Shaun Whitley, plays the legendary country star Carl Perkins, who along with Zegree and studio musicians, Brother Jay (Zach Lentino) and Fluke (Kieran McCable), provide superlative back up all night long in addition to Whitley's "Who Do You Love?”, "Party,” and "See You Later Alligator.” Christopher J. Essex brings a rich vocals and the homespun style of Johnny Cash to his renditions of "Sixteen Tons,” I Walk the Line,” and “Rider in the Sky.” Rustin Cole Sailors is a smoldering Elvis Presley, exuding natural charm in "Long Tall Sally,” and "Hound Dog.” David Folsom is perfect in the role of Sam Phillips and a sultry Laura Savage, as Dyanne, turns up the temperature in "Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking."
“Million Dollar Quartet” has a long-standing love affair with Chicago audiences. There have been sell-out productions dating back over a decade — at Goodman, and then the Apollo for years — to only a few years ago, at Paramount, and many in between, a testament to just how rugged and resilient this rock 'n’ roll juggernaut is. You will like the experience of all the sights, sounds and gyrations in the Marriott's unique round configuration, where the studio sound booth is ingeniously incorporated into Jeffrey D. Kmiec's design freeing up the stage area for the session artists and backup instrumentalists to nest in the corners when things start rocking. With Teresa Ham’s gorgeous costumes, lighting by Jesse Klug and sound by Robert E. Gilmartin, it fits like a new pair of “Blue Suede Shoes.”
Considering classics like “That’s All Right” and “Great Balls of Fire” in the mix, there will be little “Peace in the Valley” with the not to be missed “Million Dollar Quartet” rocking the house through March 16th when Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl and Johnny will leave the building.