MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Birmingham Hippodrome, Monday 24th October, 2016
“On December 4, 1956, one man brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley to play together for the first and only time. His name was Sam Phillips… the place was Sun Records… That night they made rock ‘n’ roll history.”
The above caption sets the scene for a dramatic reconstruction of that historic meeting and an excuse to play a lot of old songs! Set in the recording studio in which the aforementioned artistes cut their first hits, the play is a jukebox musical of sorts, as well as a biography. Above all, it’s a tribute concert to four icons of American popular music.
Jason Donovan is Phillips, our narrator – since when is pop heartthrob Donovan the senior member of any cast?! Where does the time go?! – and as he welcomes the men back to Sun Records, he shows us, in brief flashback scenes how he first encountered each one. Donovan’s Dukes of Hazzard accent is in keeping with the setting and he still looks great. He doesn’t get to sing, though.
We meet Jerry Lee Lewis, a young and talented piano player and something of a loudmouth. Martin Kaye dazzles with his piano-playing and amuses with his irrepressible characterisation. Lewis rubs Carl Perkins (Matthew Wycliffe) up the wrong way, giving rise to most of the tension of the piece – and also a good deal of the humour in the form of some ‘banterous’ put-downs from both parties. Wycliffe is absolutely excellent as Perkins, and he can’t half play a mean gee-tah. Robbie Durham’s Johnny Cash brings a deeper voice to the ensemble and Ross William Wild’s Elvis Presley is vocally outstanding. The hits keep coming: Blue Suede Shoes, Great Balls of Fire – but a standout moment for me is when Elvis’s girlfriend of the time, Dyanne (Katie Ray) treats us to a rendition of Peggy Lee’s Fever.
The plot is wafer-thin and the script, riddled with funny lines, is peppered with nostalgic references (back when gas was 25 cents) and dramatic irony (we know Elvis will return to Vegas). It’s also rather poignant when the foursome pose for the famous snapshot – we know what’s ahead for them, the tragedies that await them as well as their successes.
Supported by James Swinnerton on bass and Ben Cullingworth on drums, the cast, playing and singing live, generate a lot of energy that proves irresistible. It’s a feel-good show that gets your toes tapping from the get-go and dancing along before the finish. Each of the four stars is superbly represented by this talented cast, who create an authentic sound and remind us why rock ‘n’ roll was such a revolutionary sound when it first emerged.