As long as jukebox shows have to be part of the landscape, it's good that the recent ones have enough wattage to give you a proper visceral charge. The good ones of late seem to arrive at the rate of one per season, and this year's worthy contender for your hundred dollar ticket is Million Dollar Quartet. The show takes as its inspiration one of the hardcore happy events among pop afecionads, a day in 1956 on which, at the Memphis studio of the small, influential and fading record label, Sun Records, four of its current and migrating stars coincidentally showed up and wound up having an impromptu jam session. And those stars would become legends; Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins (respectively, Eddie Clendenning, Levi Kreis, Lance Guest and Robert Britton Lyons).
Co-librettists Colin Escott & Floyd Mutrux postulate what might have gone down that day, or at any rate, interpolate little dramas between the singers and Sun Records president and producer Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster) that approximate what was going down in and around Sun Records at that time. There's also a female visitor, unidentified save for the name Dyanne (Elizabeth Stanley) -- she's come along for the ride with Elvis -- who gets to lay down some smokin' vocals too. (I don't know the real life album this session spawned, so I don't know if it features any female voices at all -- I suspect Dyanne is an authors' contrivance for a little mystery and a necessary splash of sexual tension --but she's a welcome and smart addition to the mix, in a way making it a quintet that dare not acknowledge its number.)
As with most libretti crafted around pre-existing material, and especially authentic celebrities, there's a degree of facile dramaturgy that canŐt quite disguise the effort of trying to seem very ŇinsiderÓ while still incorporating basic historical data; the curse is taken off that somewhat by the conceit of having Sam Phillips ŇrememberingÓ the day for us, and hugely by the direction & musical staging (the first and apparently the second at least in part by Eric Schaeffer, apparently also following a template from the show's regional debut set by co-author Mutrux, if I read the credits accurately) and most of the celebrity portrayals and music being delivered in spooky-accurate, kickass fashion. Oddly, the portrayal thatŐs usually most accurately replicated, that of Elvis Presley, falls a little shy of the mark, both as an evocation of persona andŃat the performance I attendedŃeven pitch-wise. But the other three are super, with Lance GuestŐs Johnny Cash damn near a channeling from the beyond.
Consumer-wise, the great thing about Million Dollar Quartet is that it is what it is and you canŐt mistake its like for another. If it sounds like the kind of evening thatŐll make you happy, it unequivocally will. And as Robert Blake used to say, datŐs de name oŐ dat tuneÉ