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Seattle by David-Edward Hughes

Million Dollar Quartet
Swings When It Sings at Village Theater

Also see David's reviews of Andrea Sings Astaire and Lone Star Love

Million Dollar Quartet
Foreground: Rob Lyons; Background (l-r) Jessica Skerritt, Levi Kreis, Lance Guest and Dane Stokinger
Musicals loaded with '50s hit songs seem to be a sure bet to draw an audience in the greater Seattle area. The past few years Seattle have seen crowd pleasing productions of Smokey Joe's Café, All Shook Up and Buddy, and now we have Million Dollar Quartet opening Village Theatre's season with a rousing standing ovation and post-show chatter rife with comments about "coming back to see this" and "I'm telling all my friends to come." At just over 100 intermissionless minutes the show is perfect for those weary of the many two and a half hour musicals we have all come to expect. It has a talented cast of actors, and a fine small group of musicians. But it is a revue trying to pretend it is a book musical, and, though Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux have indeed supplied a script, it is a mere hook on which to flimsily hang the songs and the actors' impersonations of Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins.

Million Dollar Quartet was inspired by an actual event that took place on the night of December 4, 1956 at the fabled Sun recording studios in Memphis, Tennessee. It was the one and only time Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, along with Sam Phillips who had discovered them all and became known as "The Father of Rock & Roll," were all united in the same place at the same time. They sang, they argued, and they shared stories. In Escott and Mutrux's version, a girl singer named Dyanne, ostensibly a gal pal of Elvis, was there too. Nothing really dramatic happened, other than Phillips being deserted for the grandeur and lure of RCA (where Elvis had all ready set up camp). The show relies on such golden oldie songs as "Blue Suede Shoes," "Ghost Riders in the Sky," "Sixteen Tons," "That's All Right," "Great Balls of Fire," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and more (many of which were probably not part of the song mix), and the combination of the tunes and the cast vocal and sometimes instrumental skills are part of what powers the production. The other part is two of the cast members' performances.

Lance Guest, remembered fondly in some quarters as an adolescent actor in the cult film The Last Starfighter, makes a riveting, impressive, flesh and blood Johnny Cash, and if Joaquin Phoenix hadn't all ready done the film bio of Cash, Guest could have auditioned for it. Maybe he should produce one himself - he's that good. Levi Kreis may not be quite as much of a ringer for Jerry Lee Lewis, but he has Lewis's essence and energy down pat. Carl Perkins, the least well remembered of the four (he wrote "Blue Suede Shoes" but an injury kept him from recording it before Elvis had already made it a hit) is winningly played by Rob Lyons, who may well be glad to be playing the least iconic guy in the room. The most iconic, Elvis Presley, is sadly never visible in Dane Stokinger's vocally sound but mild and muted performance. An amped up Presley would make the whole show rock more than it does, and it is hard to know how Stokinger could have missed the mark so completely. Matt Wolfe as Sam Phillips has to step out of the story and talk to the audience a lot, which may explain why his Phillips only registers in fits and starts. As the composite girlfriend Dyanne, the attractive Jessica Skerritt is given a solo on the Peggy Lee classic "Fever" and does nicely enough by it, even though it is a mere consolation prize for being handed such a cipher of a role to play.

Musical direction by Chuck Mead is solid and scintillating, with assured work by onstage musicians Corey Kaiser and James "Rif" Reif. Actor Kreis sizzles at the piano as Jerry Lee Lewis. Scott Fyfe's scenic design captures the low-rent seediness of the Sun Studios impressively, and it is set off well by lighting designer Alex Berry. Deane Middleton's costumes evoke the era and the look of the of the quartet with aplomb.

In the final analysis a show like this is pretty critic proof and will likely fill all the seats during its run with less demanding theatregoers. For the choosier among you, Lance Guest's turn as Cash may be reason enough to check out Million Dollar Quartet.

Million Dollar Quartet runs through October 28, 2007 at Village Theater, 303 Front Street North, Issaquah, WA, and November 218, 2007 at Everett Performing Arts Center, 2710 Wetmore Avenue, Everett, WA. For more information visit Village Theater online at www.villagetheatre.org.


Photo: Jay Koh



- David Edward Hughes



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