Review: Arts Club Theatre Company's "Million Dollar Quartet"

Review: Arts Club Theatre Company’s “Million Dollar Quartet”

Much has been written about the impromptu Sun Records jam session that occurred on December 4, 1956. Under the watchful guidance of Sun Records founder Sam Phillips, four of the biggest recording artists of the mid century met at a crossroads to play some killer tunes. It happened once, like lightning in a bottle, and that was it.

When you get well known talent such as Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash in the same room, there’s a huge draw to know what went on inside the studio that day. Much folklore surrounds what has been dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet”, the one-time-only meetup that also included Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins. Given the huge draw that these four names are, even sixty plus years later, it only makes sense that the events surrounding this session be dramatized for the stage.

Steven Greenfield, Kale Penny, Erik Fraser Gow, and Jonas Shandel in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Million Dollar Quartet. All photography by David Cooper.

Arts Club has taken Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux’s script and shined it up for a dazzling rendition that electrifies the stage. Not only do we have four top notch performers in the titular roles of the four legends, but we have Bill Millerd at the helm, and Arts Club veteran Zachary Stevenson (you’ll remember him from the Buddy Holly musical a few years back) as the show’s Musical Director.

All of these elements together make for one hell of a show. Really, it’s more like an extended concert with brief dialogue stringing the songs together, but the music is easily the best part of a show like this. It’s probably best they spare us some of the drier details and focus on Lewis and Perkins’ apparent feud, and the brief juicy drama surrounding who is leaving Sun Records for the big leagues.

Performance-wise, Steven Greenfield easily stole the entire show with his rousing, brilliant take on Jerry Lee Lewis. He was fun to watch with campy comedy bits, but his musical performances were jaw dropping, complete with Lewis-esque stage mastery like backwards piano playing and the like. Even on his own, Greenfield would have been worth the price of admission.

Erik Fraser Gow may not look like the perfect Elvis, but he had the mannerisms and drawl down. The fun part about this show was that everyone had a chance to shine, and it wasn’t exclusively focused on Elvis and Cash as the big guns. It really was about the Million Dollar Quartet as a whole, which was a refreshing spin on the whole thing.

Lauren Jackson and Erik Fraser Gow in Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Million Dollar Quartet. All photography by David Cooper.

Even Lauren Jackson had a chance to shine in the spotlight as Dyanne, Elvis’ then girlfriend, pulling off a perfect rendition of the classic “Fever”. A couple dozen songs filled the set, ranging from highlights like Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” (pulled off with perfect range by Jonas Shandel), and the group number “Down By The Riverside”, that acted as a beautiful closer to act one.

It was fun and breathtaking at times to see these four larger than life personalities brought back down to humble, human form again in the framework of Million Dollar Quartet. Once upon a time, Presley and Cash were just kids looking to make a buck, Perkins just wanted to follow up the success of a single hit, and Lewis was wanting to showcase his unbelievable talent in a pool of bigger sharks. This show was a great reminder of the humanity behind the personas.

Main image:  The cast of Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Million Dollar Quartet. All photography by David Cooper.

The Million Dollar Quartet: Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, based on an original concept and direction by Floyd Mutrux. Directed by Bill Millerd.

Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of The Million Dollar Quartet runs through July 9, 2017 at The Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage.

Tickets are available here.