Theater Review: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at Gateway Playhouse

Theater Review: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at Gateway Playhouse

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to jam with rock legends Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis? Well, wonder no more!  Million Dollar Quartet, the second show of The Gateway Playhouse’s 2016 season, relives the night these four musical legends came together by chance and had the most epic jam session of all time.

December 4, 1956, Sun Records, Memphis, Tennessee: Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis are set to record new material under the guidance of Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records and, for the purposes of the theatrical production, the musical’s narrator. Phillips (Jason Loughlin) is the man responsible for discovering all four of the musicians, and throughout the show we learn how he met each one.

It’s not an easy thing to portray such well-known and loved performers, but each of the actors does an outstanding job bringing the legends to the stage, from their mannerisms to their musical talent. The songs have a life of their own and, hearing music that’s universally adored no matter your generation, it’s easy to get swept away and pretend the actual singers are a few feet away from you on stage.

Elvis Presley is arguably the most difficult star to impersonate because of his wild popularity, but Ari McKay Wilford has all the right moves. He plays a young Elvis in the prime of his life, full of charisma, energy, with southern charm and a rock and roll edge that captivated 1950s America. You’ll groove along with fan favorites “That’s All Right” and “Hound Dog.” This particular night, Elvis has a girl on his arm, Dyanne (Bligh Voth), who sings sultry tunes like “Fever” and “I Hear You Knockin.’”

Did you know Carl Perkins originally recorded “Blue Suede Shoes”? Carl (James Barry) certainly makes sure Elvis knows he isn’t pleased about Elvis’ success with the song. Barry is on point, right down to Perkins’ signature moves and his stage presence, full of life and energy and a deep love for all things rock n’ roll. You’ll bop along with him as he performs “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Who Do You Love” and “See You Later Alligator.”

Jerry Lee Lewis (Dominic Scott), the newcomer in a room full of seasoned, famous performers, has recently been picked up by Sun Records. His heart is big and he loves to play music—already he’s becoming the wild child of rock n’ roll. Scott is hilarious perfection in the role of Lewis, and picks out a mean tune on the piano. You can’t help but fall for Scott’s undeniable spirit and spunk when he belts out hits like “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

Chris Damiano, in the role of brooding baritone Johnny Cash, is completely believable. He sings nostalgic tunes like “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line,” and has the audience singing along, too. In the musical, Cash comes to Sun Records that night to break the news to Phillips that he’s signed with Columbia Records. There are a few tense moments as Phillips processes what Cash has said and does his best to regroup.

In real life, Phillips recorded the entire session with the four musicians. In a newspaper article published about it, Johnny, Carl, Jerry and Elvis were dubbed the “Million Dollar Quartet.” At the end of the musical performance, an audio clip of the session is played while the famous picture of the four men at the piano is projected onto the stage. The audience is left with a feeling of reverence for each of these legends of rock n’ roll, rockabilly and country and western. Even if, by some chance, you’re unfamiliar with the songs, the power of the music is strong and captivating, as are the actors performing and playing their hearts out on stage.

Million Dollar Quartet will be at The Gateway Playhouse, 215 South Country Road, Bellport, through June 25. For more information call 631-286-1133 or visit thegateway.org

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