“Million Dollar Quartet” Theatre Review: Rocks Out!

Million Dollar Quartet

Apollo Theatre

Chicago, Illinois

September 30, 2009

So did you hear the one about Elvis walking into a music studio to jam with Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis? It really happened and the story has been re-imagined in Million Dollar Quartet. Yes, it was a foursome on that December 1956 afternoon. Carl Perkins was there too. (No offense to his rockabilly kin but I had to google Carl later.) The show illustrates how Sun Records owner, Sam Phillips was the catalyst in launching new musical careers from his tiny Memphis studio.

The music is the star of the show. Apollo Theatre has fantastic acoustics. So much so, Tom and I discussed whether or not it was pre-recorded and lip synced. The cast delivers high energy performances and channels the legends with spooky accuracy. Levi Kreis (Jerry Lee Lewis) is over the top flamboyant with acrobatic piano stunts. Eddie Clendening (Elvis) croons, scowls and shakes his leg with King-like precision. Sean Sullivan (Johnny Cash) belts out a soulful song rendition then mumbles his speaking parts much like the humble man in black. Rob Lyons (Carl Perkins) plays a mean guitar just like… I just don’t know if it was an accurate depiction of Carl. (I thought Carl Perkins narrated Wild Kingdom but that was Marlon.) A fifth character Dyanne – Elvis’ girlfriend (Kelly Lamont) brings harmony and a Marilyn Monroe/Peggy Lee vampness to level out the testosterone playground.

I really enjoyed the music and learning about the early roots of these musicians. Million Dollar Quartet has a running time of 1 hour and 50 minutes, no intermission. This wouldn’t usually bother me especially when experiencing a fast paced performance. It did affect the bus crowd from the suburbs who seemed to struggle throughout the performance to find an exit. It was distracting as if it was part of the show in a bizarre synchronization number. One person would return prompting another to rise and begin a lap around a section of seats before stumbling on a path out. I have a solution for the weak bladdered.  Million Dollar Quartet could shave off some time with digital prompters flashing “Hold Your Applause.” There are 21 musical numbers in the show. Each song is interrupted at least once for narration, sometimes 2-3 times. The audience does not need to clap after every break in the movement. Of course, this is my ongoing pet peeve. I want to clap at the end of the show only or if there is a magnificent aria. But not at the conclusion of every song and definitely not 1-3 times for the same song. I’m not so concerned that someone not step on my blue suede shoes (a little nod out to my boy Carl). I just don’t want chapped hands.

Feeling the beat, Tom described the show as amplified, country-fried, and personified.

WAITING FOR THE SHOW

Pre-show, we went to Grand Central (950 W. Wrightwood). Tom told me the locale origins were of a punk and grungy dance club. Those remains have disappeared. Grand Central is a dressed up sports bar adorned with multiple stain glass light fixtures and flat screen televisions. The best part was the evening specials: $3 drafts, $3 Sangria and $3 quesadilla. A Guinness and the pulled pork quesadilla, my dinner was $6! O.K., it was $9 because I had a second Guinness but still WAHOO!!! Enjoy this economy stimulus dinner but tip on the original amount.

Post show, we did a glance over at Grand Central which had gone from a quiet pre-theatre quartet to a noisy concert crowd. $3 drafts, undoubtedly! We opted to call it a school night and head home so I could google Carl Perkins. (Carl Perkins later played in Johnny Cash’s band for ten years and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Good for you, Carl!)

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