** (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).
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Labels: Broadway, Carl Perkins, Eddie Clendening, Elvis Presley, Hunter Foster, Jerry Lee Lewis, Jersey Boys, Johnny Cash, Lance Guest, Levi Kreiss, Million Dollar Quartet, Musical, Rob Lyons, The SOB Review