Print this Page

NY Theater Reviews

(L to R) Levi Kreis, Elizabeth Stanley, Eddie Clendening, Hunter Foster, Lance Guest and Rob Lyons/ Ph: Joan Marcus

WHOLE LOTTA TALENT GOIN' ON

By MATT WINDMAN

This jukebox musical puts Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash in a room together and gives you just what you came for.

What is it exactly that makes Million Dollar Quartet so damn enjoyable and invigorating? Is it the pure simplicity and rapid-fire energy of four rock 'n roll legends performing their signature tunes for 100 blissful minutes? Is it the charisma and talent of the actors who portray these legendary figures? Whatever the case, it's one hell of a winner.
 
As a "jukebox musical," Million Dollar Quartet is closer in style to Jersey Boys, which is styled as a documentary about The Four Seasons, than to Mamma Mia, where ABBA songs are integrated into a new play with fictional characters.
 
It dramatizes a legendary 1958 jam session between Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash at a Memphis recording studio. The setup offers a good excuse to showcase hits like "Walk the Line," "Hound Dog," "Blue Suede Shoes," "Fever," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Sixteen Tons," "Great Balls of Fire," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin On," and many more.
 
At the time, all four musicians were in their early- to mid-twenties and had yet to achieve major fame or suffer personal tragedy. Among the depicted personalities, Presley is good-natured and gentle, Perkins is frustrated and on edge, Cash is sober and downbeat, and Lewis is cocky and flamboyant.
 
There are just a few hints of dramatic conflict. Perkins is upset that Presley performed "Blue Suede Shoes" on television, robbing Perkins of his hit song. Meanwhile Cash must break the news to producer Sam Phillips that he has signed with a bigger label.
 
Eddie Clendening (Presley), Levi Kreis (Lewis), Rob Lyons (Perkins), and Lance Guest (Cash) provide not just impersonations, but fully developed and vigorous portrayals. They also perform double duty on guitar and piano.
 
Hunter Foster, in a non-singing role, is similarly spirited as Phillips. Elizabeth Stanley, as the gal who walks in with Elvis, holds her own among the men and delivers some fierce vocal renditions herself.