Arts and Culture Editor
The Fulton’s production of the entertaining jukebox musical, “Million Dollar Quartet” tells the story of a historic jam session at Sun Records on a cold December night with Elvis Presley (Ari Mckay Wilford), Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau), Carl Perkins (James Barry) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Brandyn Day). The musical is narrated by the head of Sun Records, Sam Phillips (Jason Loughlin). Also involved in the proceedings is Elvis’s girlfriend, Dyanne (Brittany Danielle) who serves as the outsider of the piece. The plot of this musical is interesting, but it really just serves as a platform for these talented actor/musicians to play great music.
Loughlin is a reliably entertaining narrator as Sam Phillips. Loughlin’s character is given much of the show’s exposition, which the actor delivers very well. Although the character does not get to sing very much, Loughlin develops a playful rapport with the actors and audience that is simply irresistible.
Danielle is enjoyable as Elvis’s talented girlfriend Dyanne. Although the book writers do not give this character much to work with at all, Danielle does shine in her two numbers, “I Hear You Knocking” and “Fever”. The latter particularly becomes a highlight of the evening from the pure novelty of this delightful jazz tinged number.
Barry delivers excellent guitar work and a likable performance as Carl Perkins. Perkins may not be the star attraction of this musical, but Barry brings an enthusiasm to this musician that simply pours right back into the audience. Although strong throughout the evening, Barry really excels in his curtain call number, “See You Later Alligator”. This song is very much a showcase for Barry’s Carl Perkins, and the actor truly embraces this moment with guitar work that thrills with pure excitement.
Moreau is a startlingly convincing Johnny Cash. As Moreau croons classics like “I Walk the Line”, he simply transforms into the famed musician with a swagger that just sends chills. By the end of the evening when the audience sees a picture of the real Cash, it is hard to separate Moreau from the actual man. This actor has played the legendary rock star for many performances, and the development he has brought to this icon clearly shows. When Moreau is center stage, the theatre just erupts.
Elvis Presley is arguably the most iconic out of the four musicians, and McKay Wilford does not disappoint in his portrayal of the king of rock and roll. He has Presley’s famous hip swivels down to perfection and croons Elvis’s classic hits with a vibrant energy that brings this man to life. Wilford’s performance is very much the Elvis we all know and love, but he also brings an authenticity that makes the portrayal more than just a caricature or impersonation.
Last, but certainly not least, Brandyn Day is simply electric as Jerry Lee Lewis. All of the actors play their own instruments, and Day plays Lewis’s piano like it is an extension of himself. His nimble yet fast playing fingers are jaw dropping in their pure energy. Watching Day play the piano as Lewis is a show within itself. Along with extremely impressive instrumentals, Day brings deft comedic timing and a naivety to Lewis that brings an enduring quality to this mischievous young man.
Hunter Foster directs and choreographs this production with an efficient slickness that carries throughout the entire show. The energy from the onstage band members Brother Jay (Eric Scott Anthony) and Fluke (Zach Cossman) contributes to the concert-like atmosphere of Foster’s directorial vision. The whole evening feels authentic and respectful to the original artists and yet rooted in the world of theatre.
William James Mohney’s recording studio set at first glance may seem quite ordinary but with Matthew Demascolo’s stadium styled lighting, a heightened environment is created that is worthy of the four music titans that inhabit it. Travis M. Grant’s costumes are very much what someone may expect for musicians in a recording studio, and at times one may expect more flair and glitz from such powerful music. That is saved for a delightful surprise in the show stopping curtain call sequence. The creative elements work well together in a way that contributes but never detract from the evening of rock and roll.
Where the show falls flat unfortunately is in the bland book written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux. Most of act one is filled with dull exposition by Loughlin’s Sam Phillips that explains the backstory of each quartet member. These sequences while meant to inform stop the show dead in its tracks as the audience is really there to see the cast rock it out. There also isn’t very much conflict in this musical which makes this show at times feel over long and just pedestrian.
Although the book and story itself are nothing to write home about, the supremely talented cast and creative team elevate this enjoyable evening of theatre to roof raising heights. “Million Dollar Quartet” by the evening’s end wraps the crowd into a frenzy that threatens to blow the roof off of the Fulton Theatre.