Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Florida - West Coast

Million Dollar Quartet
Florida Studio Theatre
Review by William S. Oser | Season Schedule

Also see Bill's recent review of Guys and Dolls


Brandyn Day, Joe Casey, Ben Williams,
and Joe Boover

Photo by Matthew Holler
Florida Studio Theatre opens its Winter Mainstage season with Million Dollar Quartet, book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the story of a fabled night, December 4, 1956, when Carl Perkins was scheduled to record at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, and was joined by a young aspiring Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash. The tapes actually exist and are available in several versions.

Rock music is not my wheelhouse, so I'm not sure how much of the story is fact and what has been fictionalized. From program notes I learned that a character known in our play as Dyanne is based on a woman who actually existed but is largely fictionalized. I suspect that similar liberties have been taken with the historical characters as well, in the interest of theatrical storytelling. I was very surprised how well Million Dollar Quartet held my interest.

When four of your characters are iconic performers it is well nigh impossible to do much more than offer a suggestion of what they may have been like. Director Jason Cannon has done a superb job in his casting. While none of the actors can offer more than an outline of these unique artists, collectively they keep things lively and, most importantly, the music making kicks the audience into high gear. I'll bet that at some performances there is dancing in the aisles.

Brandyn Day is phenomenally successful in representing Jerry Lee Lewis, although I didn't believe that he was a 21-year-old country boy. His piano playing really captures the essence of early Jerry Lee Lewis, mutated from barrelhouse and boogie with an obvious Southern twist. He also nicely captures Lewis' wild and crazy stage presence. Of the four, his character is the only one still alive. Ben Williams playing Carl Perkins is an accomplished Fender bass player, really contributing fine moments to all the musical selections. He also is called upon to do more detailed acting—the character is moody, competitive, loving and jealous at the same time, just a kaleidoscope of youthful emotions, and he does a great job portraying him. Joe

Casey, playing Johnny Cash has a really difficult task. The character at this stage, and as portrayed by the authors, is much more open than the dark, despairing man he became in mid-career, so he is working against audience expectations. He does a fine job portraying this conflicted performer who is about to walk out on Sun Records, and his deep rich bass baritone does indeed remind me of the real McCoy. Joe Boover has the unenviable task of playing Elvis Presley, one of the most iconic performers ever. He styles his hair into a reminisence of the pompadour that defined Elvis' look, he gets the swivel hips moving, and that's about all we can ask of anyone playing this role. People who were Elvis fans tell me it was all about the smouldering sexuality, but I have never been able to connect with that on any level—Elvis' appeal is totally lost on me. Mr. Boover is actually handsomer than Elvis, but he cannot capture that sexuality that is legendary. His singing nicely portrays the croon of the early ballads, and he does decent work on the bluesy stuff that really made Elvis a star.

Michelle Pruiett as Dyanne gets a really sultry solo on "Fever" and adds some female sound to the group. Because the character is almost entirely fictional, the requirements aren't quite the the same, but Ms. Pruiett is lovely to look at and has nice stage presence. I would enjoy seeing her in one of FST's cabaret shows. Joe Ditmyer plays Sam Phillips with likable Southern charm, but also with a backbone of steel when necessary. Hunter Brown on fluke/drums and Kroy Presley as Jay Perkins/bass complete the fine cast, bringing Million Dollar Quartet to life.

Fine acting always means fine directing, this time by Jason Cannon, who has become a major asset to Florida Studio Theatre with work in several other areas including a fine performance in Dancing Lessons a few years back. Everything about this production is top notch, including how it perfectly fits the intimacy of the Gomperz Theater space, when several opening productions from seasons past did not. Music director Darren Server, although not physically on hand as far as I could tell, has done a great job. The musical end walks the thin line between slavish imitation and successfully reminding the audience of the original. Scenic designer Jeff Dean provides a rich, detailed recreation of the run-down, cash poor Sun Records studio. Linda Patterson's costumes do a great job recreating the era, although there is one glaring error that I kept focusing on: Carl Perkins wears a pair of black pants with a zipper up each leg, more representative of the late 1970s and into the '80s. Fine lighting designs by Michael Jarrett and sound design by Ryan Kilcourse contribute strongly to the overall quality of the production.

FST has a big hit on its hands with Million Dollar Quartet, now extended through January 8, 2017. This is another fine holiday option for Sarasota audiences.

Florida Studio Theatre presents Million Dollar Quartet through January 8, 2017, at the Gompertz Theater 1241 N. Palm Avenue, Sarasota. For tickets and performance information, please call the box office at (941) 366-9000 or visit www.floridastudiotheatre.org.

Cast (in alphabetical order):
Elvis Presley: Joe Boover*
Johnny Cash: Joe Casey*
Jerry Lee Lewis: Brandyn Day*
Sam Phillips: Joe Ditmyer*
Dyanne: Michelle Pruiett*
Carl Perkins: Ben Williams*
*=Member of Actors' Equity Association

Band:
Fluke Drums: Hunter Brown
Jay Perkins/Bass: Kroy Presley

Directed by Jason Cannon
Music Director: Darren Server
Scenic Designer: Jeff Dean
Costume Designer: Linda Patterson
Lighting Designer: Michael Jarett
Sound Designer: Ryan Kilcourse
Stage Manager: Roy Johns*


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