On Stage: Million Dollar Quartet

“Million Dollar Quartet” has everything you could want in a musical: fantastic music, talented musicians, compelling acting and gifted actors in a rollicking, high-energy show with — wait for it — no intermission. It’s by far my favorite show of Fox’s 2012-13 season.

The story takes place on a December afternoon in 1956 at Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tenn. On that day a once-in-a-lifetime jam session occurred featuring music legends Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. Sun Records had been the launching pad for all for men’s careers, thanks to the support and guidance of Sam Phillips, the studio’s owner.

Now that part of the tale is all part of the historical record. “Million Dollar Quartet,” conceived by Floyd Mutrux with book by Mutrux and Colin Escott,  is a highly fictionalized account of what went on Dec. 4, 1956, at Sun Records. Even the musical’s set list bears little resemblance to what was actually recorded that day.

Ben Goddard as Jerry Lee Lewis, James Barry as Carl Perkins, Cody Slaughter as Elvis Presley and David Elkins as Johnny Cash in the National Tour of "Million Dollar Quartet." (Photo by Paul Natkin)

Ben Goddard as Jerry Lee Lewis, James Barry as Carl Perkins, Cody Slaughter as Elvis Presley and David Elkins as Johnny Cash in the National Tour of “Million Dollar Quartet.” (Photo by Paul Natkin)

In the “Million Dollar Quartet” version of events, Presley (Cody Slaughter) has left Sun for a larger record label and Hollywood success; Perkins (James Barry) hasn’t had a hit in some time and is desperate for a comeback; Lewis (Ben Goddard) is the cocky new kid hoping to get signed on at Sun; and Cash (David Elkins) is Sun’s newest big thing.

All this is filtered through the lens of  Phillips, who is considering an offer to go work at Presley’s label but he can’t stand the thought of closing up his shop and taking orders.

The impetus for this unlikely get-together is a recording session for Perkins. Accompanied by brother Jay (Corey Kaiser) on bass and drummer Fluke (Billy Shaffer), Perkins begins recording. He isn’t too happy with the showboating newcomer on piano. They are shortly joined by Cash, who has news for Phillips, and Presley, who arrives with Dyanne (Kelly Lamont) — a talented singer in her own right.

What follows is a four-man greatest hits collection (with a couple of tunes from Lamont) interspersed with everyone’s personal and professional dramas. While they may have disagreements and personalities may clash, differences melt away once the men start playing music.

It’s a captivating, electrifying show featuring such hits as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “I Walk The Line,” “Hound Dog” and “Great Balls of Fire.” The staging is simple — everything takes place in Phillips’ slapped-together studio — but it’s the music that matters.

Not only do the cast members precisely mimic the voices and mannerisms of the larger-than-life people they are portraying– they also know how to rock. Barry, Elkins, Goddard, Slaughter, Kaiser and Shaffer are as talented playing their instruments as they are playing their parts.

“Million Dollar Quartet” runs through May 5 at the Fox Theatre. http://www.fabulousfox.com/





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