Based on the true story of a remarkable jam session that took place at Sun Studios in Memphis on December 4, 1956, Million Dollar Quartet puts four of rock music’s greatest innovators in a room together for a night filled with rivalries, reminiscences, and, most importantly, great rock and roll. Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins all had one thing in common, and that’s Sun Records and its brash executive, Sam Phillips. In Million Dollar Quartet, it’s Phillips (Scott Fuss) who narrates the story as he tries unsuccessfully to sign Johnny Cash (Bill Scott Sheets) to a new contract. Meanwhile, Sun’s latest recruit, the talented but tactless Jerry Lee Lewis (Billy Rude) taunts an already resentful Carl Perkins (Christopher Wren) with outrageous boasts and cornpone wisecracks. As Elvis Presley, Nick Voss preens and emotes through some of the King’s greatest hits while stabilizing the rest of the crew. As Dyanne, Presley’s new girlfriend and a chanteuse in her own right, Charlotte Campbell is a game performer and an outstanding vocalist.
A show such as Million Dollar Quartet stands or falls on the way its actors sing and play the music, and I am delighted to report that this production delivers the goods. Like Jerry Lee himself, Billy Rude is a flamboyant disrupter, shamelessly mixing keyboard pyrotechnics with attention-stealing antics. Christopher Wren smolders as Perkins, fighting back against the sense that his career is waning at just the moment it should be taking off. Sheets is a terrific Cash; each of his solos brought admiring sighs from the audience. This jukebox musical offers more than just the hits. It’s a pocket history of early rock and roll with all the hip-shaking energy of a Louisiana hayride.
PCPA at the Solvang Festival Theater, Wed., July 10. Plays through July 28.