Stephen Hardy as Carl Perkins, Trevor Dorner as Jerry Lee Lewis, Liam O’Daniel-Munger as Johnny Cash, and Jacob Barton as Elvis Presley.
Million Dollar Quartet
Book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux
Original Concept and Direction by Floyd Mutrux
Directed by Jim Hesselman
Review by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2019, by Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
On December 4, 1956, four recording legends dropped by Sam Phillips’ famously small Sun Records Studios for various reasons, completely unplanned and coincidental. Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash had both been under contract for some time to Phillips, though Cash’s contract would be up soon and he wouldn’t be renewing. Jerry Lee Lewis had just signed, and Elvis Presley had long since been sold to RCA. Never one to let an opportunity pass him by, Phillips got the four stars to record an impromptu jam session, and a musical legend was born.
In 2006, playwrights Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux crafted a jukebox musical built around the legend, heavy fictionalizing the story but setting up excuses to perform over twenty of the four stars’ biggest hits. The show made it to Broadway in 2010 and has been pretty much in performance around the country ever since.
Derby Dinner Playhouse has just opened their own production of the show, and if you’re a fan of the four famous rockers, it’s a show you shouldn’t miss. Well cast and directed, it’s a breezy and tuneful couple of hours that packs in the hits, including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Long Tall Sally,” “I Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and many others.
The four actors playing the legends are spectacular. While Jacob Barton looks more like Zac Efron than Elvis Presley, he has the moves down and impresses with his rendition of the King’s vocals. I’m not as familiar with Carl Perkins, but Stephen Hardy gives the role some gravitas, and he has a pure voice for country music.
But it’s the other two that are truly amazing. Liam O’Daniel-Mungar completely disappears into Johnny Cash; the look and the voice, both speaking and singing, are dead-on. And most amazing of all, Trevor Dorner makes an incredible Jerry Lee Lewis, nailing the maniacal energy and mannerisms of the flamboyant performer perfectly.
Serving as sort of the chief protagonist and somewhat of a Greek Chorus, Clay Smith pulls the show together as Sam Phillips. Smith doesn’t look anything like the real Phillips did, but this is Phillips’ story when all is said and done, and it’s a fantastically nuanced portrayal.
Jim Hesselman’s direction keeps things lively, and even though an intermission was shoehorned into a show that wasn’t supposed to have one, the chosen moment worked. Ron Riall’s set perfectly creates the ambiance of a 1950’s-era recording studio (nicely furnished with vintage equipment provided by Louisville’s Magnetic Tape Recorder Inc.) and Alexa Holloway’s lighting design makes it all look gorgeous.
A special shout-out too for Heather Paige Folsom’s choreography; for the most part it’s nicely understated, but it really brings out the Elvis and Jerry Lee characters!
The script struggles occasionally, trying to get backstories in for the characters to a point that it begins to sound a bit like a lecture, and a couple of the ways the songs are worked into the narrative are a little corny. But mostly the script stays out of the way and allows for the music. I wasn’t able to find out if the actors were really playing their own instruments, but they sure appeared to be.
I enjoyed the show more than I expected I would, and that’s completely to the credit of the fantastic performances on display. This was one of the better productions I’ve seen at Derby Dinner this year!
Featuring Jacob Barton, Trevor Dorner, Stephen Hardy, Taylor Kraft, Liam O’Daniel-Munger, Kroy Presley, Jon Rossi, and Clay Smith.
Million Dollar Quartet
August 21 – September 29, 2019
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriott Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. In June 2019 he launched a new company with Jeremy Guiterrez, Theatre Reprise. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.