Theater review

Review: Much music but scant drama in 'Million Dollar Quartet'

CorrespondentDecember 5, 2012 

  • Details What: “Million Dollar Quartet” – Broadway touring company Where: Durham Performing Arts Center, 123 Vivian St., Durham When: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 5-6; 8 p.m. Dec. 7-8; 2 p.m. Dec. 8; 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. Dec. 9. Tickets: $20-$95 Info: 919-680-2787 or dpacnc.com

“Million Dollar Quartet,” one of the more successful of the “jukebox” musicals, offers stand-ins for Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins singing two dozen songs associated with those hit-makers. The show has the usual pluses and minuses of the genre, an entertaining if not totally satisfying evening.

The show depicts the night of Dec. 4, 1956, when the four popular performers casually came together in the recording studio of Sun Records, the company that gave them their initial fame. Company owner and music visionary Sam Phillips recorded the results, the only time all four ever played together.

The real session was mostly impromptu country and gospel songs, but for this show’s purposes, the session features a wider range, including well-known numbers for each performer. Show creators Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux add a slight dramatic framework that centers on whether Phillips can retain Perkins and Cash on contract and whether Phillips will accept an offer to work with Presley at RCA. Phillips also acts as narrator, interspersing biographical and historical bits among the songs.

The show’s musical elements are first-rate, with all the actors playing their own instruments. Cody Slaughter has the looks, the moves and the voice for a convincing Presley without caricature. David Elkins’ deep, clear voice is a dead ringer for Cash’s, especially in “I Walk the Line.” As Perkins, Robert Britton Lyons is full of wit and fire, impressing with his hot electric guitar licks. Martin Kaye’s Lewis is the audience’s favorite by virtue of his outrageous antics, constant razzing of the others and wild-man piano playing.

Kelly Lamont, as Presley’s fictional girlfriend Dyanne, sings sensuously in several numbers, while drummer Billy Shaffer and bass player Corey Kaiser add solid backup all evening. Vince Nappo does what he can with Phillips’ bland, repetitive dialog.

With so little going on dramatically, the music must keep the show going, but most of the songs are broken up by dialog, making for unsatisfying performances and a lot of false-ending applause. And after 75 intermission-less minutes, the additional quarter-hour of encores is the best part of the show, full of hit numbers and high-tech visuals. It’s as if the producers knew they had to give the audience something to take home.

Dicks: music_theater@lycos.com

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