Solid music trumps a thin script in rock 'n' roll musical 'Million Dollar Quartet'

2013-05-09T00:00:00Z 2013-05-09T09:47:07Z Solid music trumps a thin script in rock 'n' roll musical 'Million Dollar Quartet'Kathleen Allen Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star
May 09, 2013 12:00 am  • 

Talk about your dream team.

It doesn't get much better than Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis in the room.

And that's what you get with "Million Dollar Quartet." The road show of the jukebox musical opened at the Tucson Music Hall Tuesday night, courtesy of Broadway in Tucson.

Now, it's hard to imagine disappointment when a musical opens with a rousing rendition of "Blue Suede Shoes," a song Carl Perkins wrote and Elvis Presley made famous.

And yet, there's disappointment.

"Million Dollar Quartet" is so contrived it makes you squirm. The dialogue telescopes the songs. The script is as thin as Elvis' hips were swively.

But - and this is a big but - the music is sublime and the musicians even more so.

The play is an attempt to recreate a famous night in rock 'n' roll history - Dec. 4, 1956, when Presley, Perkins, Cash and Lewis showed up at Sun Records and, for the joy of it, jammed.

Ben Goddard's Lewis was over the top - as Lewis was, come to think of it. But it seems more genuine with Lewis than it does with Goddard. That said, Goddard man can play a mean keyboard. He pounded that piano into complete rock submission. It was a treat to hear him play.

While Goddard was more of a caricature, the remaining members of the quartet honored their characters and music without attempting to imitate them.

David Elkins evoked Cash with his intensity and low-key demeanor.And with the first notes of "Folsom Prison Blues" it was clear Elkins got where Cash's music came from. Elkins had the voice, but he also had the spirit of the singer.

Billy Woodward swiveled his hips, curled his lips and was as polite as can be as Elvis. He revealed the singer's shyness and gave his songs the heat and the heart they deserved.

James Barry's Perkins was sullen, angry, and a most remarkable guitar player (the actors in this production were musicians first, and the music was the better for it). And when he broke into Perkins' delicious "Who Do You Love" - well, it was quite a moment.

Corey Kaiser has few lines as Perkins' brother Jay, but he speaks volumes with his stand-up bass playing. The owner of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, was given a genuine voice by Vince Nappo in spite of the fact that he had the bulk of the stilted dialogue.

The biggest disappointment was Kelly Lamont as Dyanne, Presley's girlfriend. The character seemed to be there just to add a bit of estrogen. Lamont, who has a solid reputation as a singer and actress, sounded shrill during Tuesday's opening. Worse, she sexed up her version of "Fever," which is such a sexy tune it doesn't need any embellishment. The guess is that was director Eric Schaeffer's doing, and it just felt gratuitous and out-of-sync.

"Million Dollar Quartet" is not a good musical.

But oh my is that music good. From spirituals to frenzied rock, the singers represented knew how to make us get up onto that floor. We not did see anyone jump up and dance at the Tuesday show, but we suspect it wasn't because they weren't moved. More likely it's because those of us who grew up with this music are a bit too creaky to bust out our moves. We weren't dancing but our hearts - and memories - were.

Review

• What: "Million Dollar Quartet," presented by Broadway in Tucson.

• By: Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux.

• Director: Eric Schaeffer.

• When: 7:30 p.m. today; 8 p.m. Friday; 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday.

• Where: Tucson Music Hall, 260 S. Church Ave.

• Tickets: $29-$69.

• Reservations, information: broadwayintucson.com or at 1-800-745-3000. Buy your tickets in person at the TCC box office, 260 S. Church Ave., to avoid the Ticketmaster handling fee.

• Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.

 

If you catch “The Million Dollar Quartet” on Thursday, you’ll also catch Tucsonan Robert Shaw sittin’ in for the encore.

Shaw is intimately familiar with the musical — he played the roles of Elvis, Johnny Cash and even Sam Phillips in the 2009 Chicago production (Chicago is where the show originated.).

Shaw’s known in the Old Pueblo for his roles at The Gaslight Theatre roles, and his music-packed Elvis and Johnny Cash shows.

The performance is at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Tucson Music Hall in the Tucson Convention Center. Tickets are $29-$69 at broadwayintucson.com the TCC Box Office, or at 1-800-745-3000.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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