Maine State Music Theater’s opening production, “Million Dollar Quartet” is one hell of a show. The music. The performances - and remember, these actors also had to be excellent musicians to be playing and portraying Carl Perkins (James Barry), Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau), Elvis Presley (Ari McKay Wilford) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Brandyn Day) - are aces.
The show is based on a famous photograph of the four gathered around a piano, along with Elvis’ or “Elvi” as Johnny and Carl called him, girlfriend (Brittany Danielle) called Dyanne in the show
This tribute show takes place on the night of Dec. 4, 1956 when all four musicians, in the early days of their careers, were at Sun Records, founded by Sam Phillips in 1950 in Memphis, Tennessee on the at the same time. And man was there a jam. Recordings of the event exist because Phillips.
That night was the first time Presley returns to Sun Records after Phillips signed him over to RCA for $35,000 – a hard, but necessary decision made by Phillips to save his company. Perkins is there to record “Matchbox” with his two brothers who play drums and stand up bass. Phillips has Lewis there to play piano on the recording, but Perkins doesn’t find that out until he gets there. And, he’s not too happy about it. Cash shows up because Phillips has worked out a three-year extension on Cash’s initial one year contract, however, what Phillips doesn’t know is that Cash had already signed a contract with Columbia Records to begin as soon as the contract with Sun Records ends. And there, in a musical nutshell are the sub-plots that add some meat to this rockin’ jukebox musical.
You’ll flip over the musicianship of these actors who’ve got the mannerisms and performance styles of the legendary four down. Brandyn Day’s portrayal of Lewis steals the show – the “wild man” in his early days is as colorful and confident as ever. And can Day play that piano!
I hate to admit it, but Carl Perkins isn’t someone I was familiar with, so I did a bit of research and, yes, James Barry has got Perkins’ moves down. Perkins wrote his first recorded song, “Blue Suede Shoes,” (and in the show reveals how hard it was to see Presley be the first to perform his song on TV and how much it hurt to continually live with everyone calling it Elvis’ song. Yeah, a few subplots are revealed with raw emotion. Barry has all Perkins’ moves and love of making music down.
Perkins also wrote “Honey, Don’t,” “Daddy Sang Bass,” “Matchbox,” “Everybody’s Trying To Be My Baby.” Some of these I know because The Beatles recorded them (among others). John Lennon was once quoted as saying if there hadn’t been any Elvis, there wouldn’t have been any Beatles.” And this is part of what made this show so great for me: the rockabilly these Sun Records alumni were making were having a major impact on musicians of the future, particularly the British Invasion of the ‘60s.
Litchfield native Scott Moreau is Johnny Cash. The voice, the guitar playin’, the presence … This isn’t surprising considering he’s played “The Man in Black” many times from the first national Broadway tour to the Ogunquit Playhouse to Harrah’s Las Vegas. Moreau recorded a Cash tribute album – at Sun Records – copies were for sale at the concessions stand.
Brittany Danielle plays Elvis’ girlfriend, named Dyanne, who’s a bit of a singer herself. The pair stop by on their way to Elvis’ parents’ house. (Her real name was Marilyn Evans, a 19-year-old chorus line dancer at a Vegas casino from Fresno, California). But … that’s showbiz! Danielle performs the steamy “Fever” and “I hear You Knocking” solo. Like Moreau, Danielle reprises this role at MSMT adding some sizzle and spice and a strong voice.
But, oh the songs! “Who Do You Love?” “16 Tons,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Real Wild Child,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” “See You Later Alligator,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On,” … and more. This cast brought the house down. And the encore … just has to be experienced. Yes, it was nothing less than a standing ovation for these outstanding performers.
“Million Dollar Quartet” continues at MSMT through Saturday, June 23. Call the box office at 207-725-8769 for tickets and have yourself a rockin’ good time! For more information, visit www.msmt.org.