Last night I attended the press night for ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at the Marlowe Theatre.
For those who don’t know the story (one of “those” was me), it’s the story of Sam Phillips, an entrepreneur who discovered four of the biggest names in rock ‘n’ roll-Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. This show tells the story of a night-the only night, on December 4th 1956, when Sam got those four stars together, in his recording studio ‘Sun Records’ in Memphis, This was said to be the only night these four people “jammed” together,
The lone set is a three-sided view into the recording studio, complete with sound booth, and decorated with awards Sam would’ve won for his stars over the years.
Sam Phillips played by Jason Donovan, was a man of many talents. An ego the size of Memphis (and rightly so), his belief in the stars he signed, saw him to be one of the greatest record producers of all time.
Jason Donovan plays the role with ease-and, although his role is a non-singing part, he commands the stage as a narrator of Sam’s story with confidence and articulate dialogue. Telling each individual story of the four stars, and his initial meetings with them, we get to see what made Sam take a chance on each one.
Ashley Carruthers plays the goofy but eager Jerry Lee Lewis. In all honesty, I had to keep reminding myself I was there to review all members of the cast, not just him. His piano playing talent is outstanding (and that’s not big enough a word to explain it). Ashley has been playing piano since he was five, and watching him, you can see that (I would’ve believed he was born playing one).
So eager to impress everyone (except Carl), his quick “wit” and mannerisms are sometimes close to the mark. For the majority of the time though, he’s the funniest cast member on stage.
Matthew Wycliffe plays Carl Perkins, the brash, arrogant guitar player, (which he plays incredibly)! Carl has a massive issue with just about anyone who speaks to him, but more so with the fact Elvis took “Blue Suede Shoes” onto a show, making him famous, and, unfortunately leaving Carl without the fame that song could have brought him.*
Robbie Durham plays Johnny Cash, one of the quieter, but by no means less talented members of the quartet. Johnny is leaving Sun Records to go to Columbia Records, but doesn’t know how to tell Sam, who is ready and waiting with the new three year contract to keep Johnny with his company.
Robbie sings with the range Johnny was known for, his deep baritone voice, reverberating through the auditorium, sometimes at almost a growl.
Ross William Wild plays the legendary Elvis Presley. Unsure as to how Ross was going to portray the star, he very quickly stole the audiences hearts with his smooth moves, identical to the ones made famous by the coiffed singer. Ross’ deep velvet voice, mimics perfectly the sounds we heard when Elvis was at his peak, and his charm bewitches everyone watching.**
In 1956, Elvis originally took along a dancer to the studio, but in the show, he brought along Dyanne, a singer.
Dyanne is played by Katie Ray, and oh my, that girl can sing. Blowing the audience away with her renditon of “Fever”, her constant enthusiasm, even during background scenes, is enchanting. Oozing sophistication, she sashays her way around the stage, dancing and singing with all the class and talent the male cast have.
These talented five are flanked by one of the most amazing bassists I’ve ever heard, James Swinnerton as Jay Perkins (Carl Perkins brother). Additionally (and possibly sometimes overlooked), Ben Cullingworth plays Fluke, an incredible drummer in the far back corner of the stage. The acoustics obviously much improved from 1956, the sounds as they played, thumped through the audience-which was felt deep through our chests.
The rendition of ‘Peace in the Valleys’ had the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. True talent was shown when no supporting music was used, and the individual voices of the five, congregating to harmonise was one of the most beautiful moments of the entire show.
Additionally (no spoilers here), the last scene Sam Phillips narrates found me extremely choked up-just the way that scene and how it ended, brought emotional intakes of breath from the audience-it was so moving.
The audience, mainly of an older generation, caught my eye a lot. Throughout I watched as they were captivated by the incredible talent before them, tapping feet, nodding heads, and in some cases, singing along.
Towards the end, encouraged to get up out of our seats and dance along, the auditorium erupted, with the sounds of constant clapping along, applause, and cheers.
What more is there to say-considering the music isn’t my current era (although in no means from a forgotten era), I wasn’t sure how well I’d find reviewing this performance.
If anything, somehow, this ended up being one of the easiest shows to review. With nothing but praise from each and every cast member, and their individual talents, it’s most definitely well worth a watch,
*Matt also has an album out! You can buy it HERE, or from Front of House at the theatres he’s touring at!
**Ross has also just released a CD of his music, which you can also purchase at Front of House.