AISLE SAY Philadelphia


Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Musical Arrangements & Supervision by Chuck Mead
Directed by Eric Schaeffer
Forrest Theatre, 1114 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107

Reviewed by Claudia Perry

At the Forrest Theatre is the international Tony® Award Winning musical, Million Dollar Quartet. Sam Phillips, known as the “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll” brought four legendary musicians together at his Sun Records Studio in Memphis, Tennessee for one of the greatest rock n’ roll jam sessions of all time. The year was 1956 and the fabulous four were none other than Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.

On December 4, 1956, Sam Phillips invites these four artists to visit Sun Records, not only planning to add Jerry lee Lewis’s piano sound to Carl Perkins next album but also to renew Johnny Cash’s recording contract. While Phillips urges the boys to have an impromptu soiree he records every minute of their get together. And ever the savvy business man, he calls a local reporter and photographer to document the session, turning it into a media event. Reporter, Bob Johnson named the four the “Million Dollar Quartet” in the Memphis daily paper the next day. The recordings of the session were later released in a series of albums in 1981. Phillips was innovative as a producer as he took a hands on approach in recording and developing the young talents that he discovered. And he discovered all four along with Roy Orbison, Charlie Rich and B.B. King.

This musical evening tells the story of that magical night featuring such enduring hits such as Blue Suede Shoes, Long Tall Sally, I Walk the Line, Great Balls of Fire, Matchbox, Folsom Prison Blues, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Hound Dog, and many more.

First off is a shout out to the Sound Designer, Kai Harada. Thank you for letting the character of Jerry Lee Lewis play on a REAL PIANO -- because it sounded like a real piano. And thanks for letting the performers sing into REAL MICROPHONES. The sound quality was awesome. It sounded just as it should be --a bunch of talented musicians singing and playing their own instruments. It wasn’t overly amplified over the main speaker system, nor was it unnecessarily beefed up with synthesizers or tracks. Hey, it was like a REAL CONCERT! Wow, what an idea!

Vince Nappo bears the burden of the storytelling and is very convincing as the warm, southern fried, hard scrabble producer, Sam Phillips. And he does a Memphis drawl that is spot on. David Elkins is uncanny as Johnny Cash. He sounds like him, sings like him and plays the guitar like him. He’s also extremely tall and handsomer than Johnny Cash ever was. Cody Slaughter is an absolute dead ringer for Elvis. He sounds like him and has all the King’s moves down to a “t”, which includes knee bends, leg shakes and throwing his jacket open at every occasion. Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins is a wonderful lead guitar player with a great voice.Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee bangs the hell out of the piano, stomping his leg, Killer style. The scenic design by Derek McLane is quite effective. And the costume design by the inimitable Jane Greenwood is deliciously fun.

My only quibble with the book is that the role of Dyanne seems to be there solely for window dressing. I couldn’t tell if she was really a girlfriend of Elvis or not. Since she has no last name in the program, I’m assuming she was not. And having her sing, “Fever” seemed out of place with the rest of the music. I also wish that the big splashy four song encore could have been sandwiched within the confines of the show itself. (If it was put in a dream sequence you could keep the glittering jackets.) This way the show could have ended with the fabulous photo of the four artsits around the piano.

In any event, the show is a high octane concert without intermission. If you’re a fan of any of these early rock n’ rollers you will certainly dig it. And even if you’re not – the high energy of these talented performers who are all quadruple threats (They can act, sing, play an instrument and impersonate a famous artist.) will certainly keep you entertained.

For tickets call 800-447-7400 or purchase online at The National Tour will continue on to Washington, D. C. December 18. 2012 - January 6, 2013 The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts - Eisenhower Theatre.

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