When you walk into a musical and leave snapping your fingers and a big smile on your face, you know you’ve had a fun, crazy evening. That’s the kind of experience your going to have with the Million Dollar Quartet tour, which runs at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until July 31st. The production is a jukebox musical written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott and played at Broadway’s Nederlander Theatre between 2010 & 2011 for 489 performances. The Toronto production is part of the first U.S. Tour that kicked off in 2011 and is brought to us by Dancap Productions. The tour will be Dancap’s final production in the city, going into a hiatus after five years in business.
The production dramatizes the impromptu recording session that happened on December 4, 1956, at the Sun Records’ recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee. This was no ordinary recording session. It was the gathering of super stars: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and new-boy Jerry Lee Lewis. Along with Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne (It was a dancer named Marilyn at the real session) and record producer Sam Phillips, the four Rock n Roll stars have a jam session together that would go down in the history books. The production is a reflection into the lives of these four stars, how each came under the spotlight and how, for the first and last time, they would perform together under one roof.
The production brings forward two things that you can look forward to: brilliant music and a feel-good experience, coupled with surprising performances. Its important to realize the complexity of trying to fill the shoes of such iconic stars. Its difficult, not just because of their fame, but just how many times these legends have been impersonated over the years. With that said, the cast live up to expectations and portray their individual icons very well. They balance between drama and music, focusing on the individual traits, habits and stage qualities each legend showcased during the period. The narration by Sam Phillips (Christopher Ryan Grant) gives the production a little fluidity, providing moments to reflect on each legend and give a back story leading up to the supergroup jam session. Grant does a great job portraying the exuberant record producer – even receiving audience applause after various speeches – showcasing that simple dialogue can effectively connect with the audience.
The effort each performer puts into the show can clearly be seen on stage. Lee Ferris brings energy into his portrayal of Carl Perkins and definitely highlights the stress between Perkins and Elvis on the matter of Blue Suede Shoes. Eddie Clendening replaces Cody Slaughter as Elvis, stepping back into the very role he was in during the Broadway run. He brings an interesting take to Elvis, highlighting more of Elvis’ humble, quiet side. However, two individuals who simply stood out from start to finish were Martin Kaye and Derek Keeling, who play Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash respectively. Keeling, known for playing Danny on Broadway’s Grease, brings to this production an impressive portrayal of the “Man in Black”, successfully capturing his deep & distinctive bass-baritone voice and his rather simple demeanor. He extends his brilliant portrayal of Cash well into the music, capturing diverse elements of Cash’s well known performance styles, such as plummeting his voice for Sixteen Ton’s and delivering the power in the line “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”.
However, the act that stole the show was Kaye’s portrayal of young Jerry Lee Lewis, who is in his early twenties at the time. Trying to make his mark in Rock n Roll, Lewis made the trek out to Sun Records to see if Mr. Phillips could help put him on the map. Kaye not only imitates Lewis, but lives him. From his explosive mouth and skies-the-limit ego – expected from a young, ambitious musician – to the epic piano skills, Kaye delivers on every note; quite literally. He not only demonstrates his mastery at the piano, but also his ability to capture that confidence Lewis had at the time to stand up to the big boys such as Elvis and Perkins, to show what he had to offer with his piano skills. Kaye’s performance is simply, brilliant!
The beautiful music, set to the colourful scenic design by Derek McLane, creates the perfect atmosphere to experience good old Rock n Roll. Artists back in the day focused on one thing: their music. This production is a tribute to the very artists who worked hard to create something new for the music industry. Its a reflection on individuals who sang from the heart and gave it all they had. For some of us, this is the closet to the icons we will ever get and having a chance to experience their music, just makes the evening fully worth it. If your going in expecting perfection, you won’t find it. What you will find is a beautifully crafted show that will leave you standing on your feet at the very end, snapping and clapping away till the final note hits. Its just a rollicking good time!
Million Dollar Quartet plays at the Toronto Centre for the Arts until July 31st, 2012. For tickets, please visit www.dancaptickets.com