Friday, May 28, 2010

Million Dollar Quartet (The SOB Review)

Million Dollar Quartet (The SOB Review) - Nederlander Theatre, New York, New York

** (out of ****)

It must have seemed like million dollar idea at the time.

Take a page out of the Jersey Boys playbook, corral a famed group of singers from the 50s and build a jukebox musical around them. Oh, and be sure to remove any crude language, too.

If Million Dollar Quartet strikes you as Jersey Boys-lite, you're not alone. Resembling something like one of those family-friendly fare for which Branson is famous, this likeable if milquetoast tuner aims to please.

While Jersey Boys provided the Four Seasons' milestones through the years, Million Dollar Quartet centers on a single December evening when some major forces in music history came together. Back in the earliest days of rock and roll, visionary recording impresario Sam Phillips (a terrific Hunter Foster), owner of Memphis' famed Sun Records, had an unusual knack for spotting extraordinary talent.

By 1956, he had attracted legendary artists like Carl Perkins (Rob Lyons), Johnny Cash (Lance Guest), Jerry Lee Lewis (Levi Kreis) and Elvis Presley (Eddie Clendening) to his label. This stellar quartet enjoyed a jam session on December 4 of that year that's now been forever immortalized by Floyd Mutrux, who originally conceived and directed this musical.

Million Dollar Quartet offers several admirable individual performances, particularly that of the excellent Levi Kreis. Picture Harry Connick, Jr. doing Jerry Lee Lewis without coming across as stilted and you've got an appropriate image. A master of the keyboard as well as a gifted actor and singer, Kreis is one great ball of fire unto himself. He displays so much spunk and charm that they could have built the entire show around him.

As Johnny Cash, Guest expertly walks the line, not only sounding like the Man in Black, but lending an air of his humble demeanor as well. But Lyons' powerhouse Perkins next to Clendening's demure Presley will have you scratching your head how the former's superstar status ever eluded him. Clendening's Presley so pales in comparison with the other three that he blends into the recording studio's soundproofing.

There's nothing terribly insightful about the evening that's offered by Mutrux and Colin Escott's book. After all, the music's the thing here. So if it's a pleasant diversion you're after, Million Dollar Quartet just might fit the bill.

But in terms of a solid-gold Broadway show, I felt a little shortchanged.

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

In keeping with the new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) regulations that unfairly discriminate against bloggers, who are now required by law to disclose when they have received anything of value they might write about, please note that I have received nothing of value in exchange for this post.

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At 29 May, 2010, Blogger Vance said...

Am I the only one who liked Eddie Clendening's Elvis? i thought it would be so easy to overplay it and he does a nice understated thing (as opposed to Lyons who I thought overplayed it a bit). If anyone, Guest totally disappeared into the background. I always forgot he was there. I will agree that Kreis was fantastic.

At 30 May, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

I thought Lance Guest captured Johnny Cash extraordinarily well. But as for Clendening's Elvis, I wondered where the swagger was.

At 21 October, 2010, Anonymous Gail Gladstone said...

I have never blogged before, just as I have never seen a movie or a broadway show twice before, but when it comes to the Million Dollar Quartet, I made an exception.

I was terrified that the 2nd time around would be a downer and delighted to find that it was even better than the first time. Every one of the performers was just kept getting better and better.

I was part of this era...saw all of the performers from the early years...this cast was outstanding and I could not sit still for a moment. Stellar performances! Outstanding! An Evening to behold!!!!!


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