It was that day that he managed to corral what would soon be four music icons (Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley) into the small recording studio at Sun Records in Memphis, TN – for a session that would soon, and forever, be referred to as The Million Dollar Quartet – also the title of this rockin’ musical revue, with book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrix, now playing at the Fabulous Fox.
The story goes like this: Phillips books a recording session with Carl Perkins, his star player. But Carl needs a new hit, and a new sound. Phillips brings in a brash young newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis to add a little honky-tonk to Perkins guitar-driven rockabilly. They get along like oil and water. The reason Phillips needs this hit, too, is because he sold his second-biggest moneymaker, a young fella by the name of Elvis Presley to RCA Records for $40,000. RCA has no idea what to do with this kid – aside from putting him on television and in the movies - and they want to buy Phillips, too. Phillips loves producing his own records, and Perkins is his last big chance, but RCA wants an answer tonight. Sam has another ace up his sleeve. He also handles country phenom Johnny Cash, and when Cash signs another 3-year contract tonight, he’ll won’t have to accept RCA’s offer. Cash and Presley both happen to be in town and are, unbeknownst to Perkins, invited to the studio. Presley hasn’t seen Perkins since he covered Carl’s song “Blue Suede Shoes”, and even tho’ he’s the biggest star in the world, he’s understandably a little bit nervous that the volatile Perkins won’t be happy. Phillips fixes all that, by bringing the foursome together the one way he knows how: by their love of music. But alliances and allegiances aren’t always what they seem, and although Sam goes through some hard knocks that night – he realizes that the rock and roll he has helped shape is no fad.
Vince Nappo as Sam Phillips does a outstanding job as our erstwhile Narrator - hip, slick and full of good ol’ southern boy charm. But when he’s hit with more than one piece of bad news on this one night, you start to feel really badly for him. James Barry as Carl Perkins is rough, confident and can play a very mean guitar. Oh, did I mention that the actors also all play their own instruments! And, excellently at that! David Elkins as Johnny Cash has that low, velvety growl down pat. Cody Slaughter also is an impressive young Elvis, seemingly channeling the prince that would be King, in voice as well as manner. Corey Kaiser as Jay, and Billy Shaffer as Fluke - the bass fiddle player and the drummer – rock with abandon, and Kelly Lamont as Dyanne, Elvis’ new fling and only woman in the show holds her own in this good ol’ boys club with two scorching numbers. The standout performance for me was Ben Goddard as Jerry Lee Lewis. He’s obviously the comic relief in the show, and Goddard handles it deftly, capturing Lee’s brash cockiness, with an equally showy virtuosity at the piano (although with every hair toss, I have to admit I was reminded of Dennis Quaid in “Great Balls of Fire”).
Direction by Eric Schaeffer was on point, expertly assisted by lighting from Howell Brinkley, scenic design by Derek McLane and costumes by Jane Greenwood. Music supervision by Chuck Mead, and sound design by Kai Harada, were, of course, the real star of the evening, because in a show full of hits like “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Who Do You Love?”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Hound Dog”, “I Walk the Line”, and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”, you BETTER have that sound rockin’. And they DID.
So, if you’re looking for a rockin’ good time, it’s unlikely you’ll find any better than what’s happenin’ now down at the Fox, with “Million Dollar Quartet”, playing thru May 5th. For more information: fabulousfox.com.