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A CurtainUp NJ Review
Million Dollar Quartet
A case could be made that none of the interpreters of the show's renowned blues/rock 'n roll superstars — Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis — in any production anywhere could totally captured the unique mystique and all of memorable qualities of the real artists. But with this celebration of a very real happening in which these musical artists were brought together, all the performers come mighty close to achieving that distinction.
With that said, the audience at the performance I saw was as eager as I to respond positively to every song and every dramatic moment that director Hunter Foster (who played Sun Records producer Sam Phillips in the original production) has staged based on the original concept and direction by Floyd Mutrux.
The tight and unsentimental book by Mutrux and Colin Escott does its job effectively. The show looks smart with Derek McLane's original set design and is brilliantly lit by Ryan O'Gara. As usual, my complaint is the over-amplification that comes close to being painful. But who is listening to my plea?
Yes, this pretty much conforms to the juke-box musical formula but it has a viable story that weaves its way credibly from one rousing number to another. At the center of story is Sam Phillips, played with winningly tough disposition by Jason Loughlin, who made a career nurturing the talents and boosting the careers of his mostly poor but talented unknowns at his now legendary Sun Records Studio shere the show takes place.
It's a historic December 4, 1956 meeting between Presley (Alex Boniello with those famous hips and that pompadour), Cash, (deep mellow-voiced Scott Moreau), Perkins (a vigorously empowered James Barry) and Lewis (the stimulating Nat Zegree). The meeting was arranged by Phillips to celebrate the brilliant success of Presley following his appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show singing "Blue Suede Shoes" which was written by Perkins. Although popular, Perkins is anxiously looking forward to getting due credit and more success with his newest songs. Add to these three the affably cocky Lewis who was basically there for his dazzling piano-playing and we've got a powerhouse quartet ready to set the studio ablaze.
The drama behind this fictionalized version of this get-together during which Phillips kept his studio's recording system going, concerns itself with whether Presley's new contract with RCA will involve Phillips, who also hopes Cash will sign a new contract.
Not inclined to stand in the shadow of these guys is Presley's girl friend Dyanne (Bligh Voth), an attractive and shapely red-haired songstress in her own right. After igniting the studio with "Fever" and later on with "I Hear You Knockin" we know she is not just there for decor. And herer emerald green dress by designer Molly Walz is a knockout.
Despite the fact that few of the tunes we hear were actually played at that session, twenty-two songs from the blues/rock 'n roll songbook get a phenomenal workout'. None get the adrenalin going more than those by Zegree who, as Lewis, does everything to the piano but tickle its keys with a virtuosic technique that one could call circus-worthy. Elyse Sommer's review of the original Broadway production has a list of the songs so I will only mention that the auditorium walls shook when Jerry Lee, Dyanne, Carl and Brother Jay (on the bass) closed Act I with a medley of "Rockin" Robin" and "I Shall Not Be Moved."
There was plenty to shake the blues away in Act II, including that immortal Lewis rouser "Great Balls of Fire" as well as a post-show extension that encouraged the audience to get into the aisles where it was obvious that there was "A Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On" and wasn't about to quit any time soon.
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Million Dollar Quartet
Book by Colin Escott & Floyd Mutrux
Directed by Hunter Foster
Cast: Jason Loughlin (Sam Phillips), James Barry (Carl Perkins), Scott Moreau (Johnny Cash) Nat Zegree (Jerry Lee Lewis), Alex Boniello (Elvis Presley), David Sonneborn (Fluke), Sam Weber (Brother Jay), Bligh Voth (Dyanne)
Original Scenic Design: Derek McLane
Costume Design: Molly Walz
Lighting Design: Ryan O?Gara
Sound Design: Randy Hansen
Music Direction: James Barry
Production Stage Manager: Fran Lombardi
Running Time: 2 hours 20 minutes including intermission
Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, N.J. www.PaperMill.org
Performances: Wednesday at 7:30 pm; Thursday at 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm; Friday at 8 pm; Saturday at 1:30 pm and 8 pm; and Sunday at 1:30pm and 7 pm
From 03/29/17 Opened 04/02/17 Ends 04/23/17
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 04/02/17
NJ Theatre Alliance
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