Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: New Jersey / Delaware Valley

Million Dollar Quartet
Paper Mill Playhouse
Review by Bob Rendell


Bligh Voth, Nat Zegree, and Alex Boniello
Photo by Jerry Dalia
It is Tuesday, December 4, 1956, and a legendary event in rock 'n' roll, country and rockabilly musical history is about to begin. We are at the modest headquarters and recording studio of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, the domain of its founder, the proudly independent, brilliant music entrepreneur Sam Phillips. Phillips has scheduled a recording session for Carl Perkins, and, among the musicians present to accompany him, is Phillip's latest discovery, Jerry Lee Lewis. About to arrive for a visit are two artists whom Sun Record has already launched into the stratosphere, Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. This gathering is about to turn into an extended legendary jam session (presciently recorded by Phillips) in which these four iconic artists play together for the first and only time.

And, "Great Balls of Fire," thanks to Million Dollar Quartet, its creators, Floyd Mutrux (original concept and direction), and Colin Escott (book with Mutrux), director Hunter Foster (who played the role of Phillips on Broadway), and the talented and endlessly energetic cast and crew at the Paper Mill Playhouse, for the next two hours or so, we will experience a delightfully fresh and entertaining vision of that day.

Yes, Quartet is a jukebox musical. However, it is so savvy and entertaining that only a curmudgeonly theatre critic would complain. It is best described as a rock cum country music concert neatly packaged inside a play. Thus, we are spared the painful shoehorning of pre-existing songs into its book.

The intelligent and engrossing book focuses on the personae and career status of the quartet, and their relationships with one another and Phillips and Sun Records on this fateful day. Albeit somewhat superficial, it does provide interesting insights into the music business of its era.

Under Hunter Foster's sure-handed direction, the first-rate cast provides the modulation and changes of pace needed to allow Quartet to deliver the full impact of its hard-driving, all stops out, rock 'n' roll numbers. The story and structure of the show give the brightest spotlight and strongest show stopping numbers to the role of Jerry Lee Lewis. Nat Zegree creates a fully fleshed out Lewis and delivers a knockout, stirring musical performance. James Barry's Carl Perkins is full of naturalistic detail. Scott Moreau captures the sound and manner of Johnny Cash with particular accuracy (still, his "Ghost Riders in the Sky" reminded me a bit more of Vaughn Monroe than Cash). Alex Boniello is an amiable, vocally fine Elvis Presley. However, a little more charisma is needed to truly evoke Elvis.

Jason Loughlin is ingratiating and sympathetic as Sam Phillips, our guide to the world of Sun Records. Bligh Voth as the girlfriend who accompanies Elvis gets to give us a solid performance of the jazzy "Fever." Sam Weber and David Sonneborn as the back-up musicians nicely lend characterization to their roles, and provide the solid musical support and more expertly.

From the opening "Blue Suede Shoes" through two dozen songs including "Memories Are Made of This," "I Walk the Line," and "Party," and concluding with a roof raising "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On", Million Dollar Quartet provides rousing entertainment.

Million Dollar Quartet continues performances (Evenings: Wednesday, Thursday 7:30 pm; Friday, Saturday 8 pm, Sunday 7 pm/ Matinees: Thursday, Saturday, Sunday 1:30 pm through April 23, 2017, at the Paper Mill Playhouse, 22 Brookside Drive, Millburn, NJ 07041. Box Office: 973-376-4343; online: www.papermill.org.

Million Dollar Quartet, book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux; original concept and direction by Floyd Mutrux; inspired by Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins

Cast
Sam Phillips: Jason Loughlin
Carl Perkins: James Barry
Johnny Cash: Scott Moreau
Jerry Lee Lewis: Nat Zegree
Elvis Presley: Alex Boniello
Fluke: David Sonneborn
Brother Jay: Sam Weber
Dyanne: Bligh Voth


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