A whole lotta shakin' at MSMT

Posted Thursday, June 7, 2018 in Culture

A whole lotta shakin' at MSMT

From L-R, Jerry Lee Lewis (Brandyn Day), Carl Perkins (James Barry), and Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau). Seated, Elvis Presley (Ari McKay Wilford), pose in the same positions they were in in the 1956 photo, taken by record producer Sam Phillips (Jason Loughlin), who quipped that a photo had to be taken because otherwise no one would have believed the meeting took place.

By Gina Hamilton

On December 4, 1956, a rather extraordinary meeting took place at Sun Recording Studio, a jam session whose significance in the rock and roll world reached almost mythical status -- Carl Perkins (James Barry), Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau), Jerry Lee Lewis (Brandyn Day) and Elvis Presley (Ari McKay Wilford) were invited (or summoned, some say) by their producer, Sam Phillips (Jason Loughlin).

A local newspaper dubbed the photo "The Million Dollar Quartet."

Elvis brought along his girlfriend at the time, a woman known in the play as Dyanne (Brittany Danielle). In 2008, the woman in the studio at the time was tracked down in Chicago. Her real name was Marilyn Evans, and she was 71 when she was identified. But because she was unknown when the musical was being put together, they gave her a fictitious name.

Also in the studio that night were Carl's brother Jay (Eric Scott Anthony), playing bass, and Fluke (Zach Cossman) on drums.

All of the characters played their own instruments, which made the whole thing even more wonderful.

Now, those who have read my reviews on musicals that are essentially rock and roll, country, or folk songs strung together with the thinnest plot lines knows I don't much care for them, in general. They are fascinating to people who really like the particular artists, and I recommend them to those viewers. But Million Dollar Quartet, like the Buddy Holly Story two years ago, appeals across ages and genres. In the first place, they are based on historical events. In the second place, the energy and excitement surrounding those songs, sung by the "artists" themselves, is palpable.

If you can get tickets, get them. Don't let this one pass by. MSMT has announced that additional shows have been added to the schedule, but they'll go fast. Run, don't walk, to the box office.

Sam Phillips, who owns Sun Recording Studio, narrates the action. Sun never got the recognition it should have received, having nurtured several artists who became significant rock and rollers. The most famous of these, Elvis Presley, was sold to RCA Records to save Sun from bankruptcy, a decision Sam regrets, as does Elvis, who has found himself pressured into making bad movies and music that is not what he got into the business to do. 

Sam is trying to support Carl Perkins, too, who has had a run of bad luck. To that end, he brings in a very young and brilliant, but more than slightly uncouth Jerry Lee Lewis to spice up Carl's sound. And Sam is getting ready to offer a three-year contract extension to Johnny Cash, who has had a banner year. But Cash has accepted a deal with Columbia Records, so he can make the gospel records he's always wanted to make. Carl has also received an offer from Columbia. Even Sam himself is being courted by RCA to work with Elvis again. Only Jerry Lee Lewis proudly proclaims that his first hit record will be made on the Sun label.

Ultimately, Sam's "boys" go their separate ways, and after 1956, they are never in the same room again; but the sound of the late 50s and 60s grew out of Sun Studios and Sam's tireless work on the behalf of his clients.

The music was authentic -- watching Day play the piano in the manner of Jerry Lee Lewis, especially, was absolutely thrilling. None of them act like impersonators, though there are touches -- I'll let you discover them for yourself -- that makes you laugh out loud.

In short, see it. You'll love it. If you don't, well, goodness gracious, you'll regret it.

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