"Million Dollar Quartet"
Nottingham Theatre Royal.
Nottingham Theatre Royal.
"Million Dollar Quartet" is a jukebox musical which dramatises the recording session of December 4, 1956, among Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, and newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis.
As jukebox musicals go, this has to be one of the best because the story is that well written. In most jukebox musicals it's all about the music with a loose storyline woven in with the featured songs. With "Million Dollar Quartet" the story is just as important as the wonderful music that was played on that historical date.
We find out that arrogant and cocky new boy on the block, Jerry Lee Lewis loved to wind up the more established Carl Perkins, but as Lewis' talent for pumping those piano keys became evident, Perkins warmed to him, as did the others. Lewis is the only one of the four still alive today.
Set in the recording studio of Sam Phillips' Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, the date was set for an informal meeting of the three main stars and the new boy, the set itself was a fascinating image of the recording studio of the day with the large spools used to record the music which was all recorded in the one room, designed by Olivier Award winning set designer David Farley.
Phillips was played by Jason Donovan who got to show off his Memphis based Southern accent. Phillips was the man responsible for discovering the talents of Elvis, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash among others and Donovan brought out the passion of Phillips for creating the rock n roll and rockabilly music of the mid to late fifties.
Ross William Wild (Presley), Robbie Durham (Cash), Matt Wycliffe (Perkins) and Martin Kaye (Lewis) are not only fine actors but all four showed their musical talents for playing their instruments. Kaye especially shone with his breakneck piano playing, his fingers a blur. The four recreated the sound of Sun Records to great affect. Anyone who has listened to any of Presley's or Cash's Sun recordings will know just how close the sound was to those original Sun classics.
Completing the cast was Katie Ray as Presley's girlfriend, Dyanne at the time, who also was a singer. In fact Dyanne was a character made up for the musical because the woman who turned up on Elvis' arm was a mystery. Katie though has a hell of a voice and shows it off on a couple of numbers in the musical, "Fever" and "I Hear You Knocking".
There are some cracking songs featured in the musical, "Blue Suede Shoes", the song that ruffled Perkins feathers because Elvis had the hit and left Perkins to be seen as the singer who covered Elvis, instead of the other way round. "Folsom Prison Blues", "Matchbox", "That's Alright Mama", "Peace In The Valley", "Down By The Riverside", "Hound Dog", "Great Balls Of Fire", "Long Tall Sally", "I Walk The Line", "Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On" and "See You later Alligator" are featured among many others, making this one of the best soundtracks for a musical.
Produced by Mark Goucher and Simon Friend and directed by Ian Talbot, it's like eavesdropping on a private meeting and that casualness is created beautifully. The lighting designed by David Howe was unobtrusive but succeeded in highlighting what was needed to be focused on at any particular part of the piece.
Co-written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the script is as free flowing as if it were improvised. The story itself is a piece of musical history brought to life for all to experience decades down the line.
The musical is not a long one but it packs in so many songs and a wonderful story that by the end of Act One, you're not aware of the time that has elapsed. The end of Act Two explodes into full on party mood with everyone up on their feet clapping and singing along to a finale of rock n roll classics.
"Million Dollar Quartet" is at the Nottingham Theatre Royal until Saturday 15 October 2016 and in my humble opinion, a rock n roll riot for anyone who enjoys a good story and a great tune or twenty three.