Nearly ten years before the formation of rock ‘n’ roll’s first supergroup, Cream (including Eric Clapton, Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce), four of music’s most influential artists got together in the recording studio where their careers had begun and made music history.
On December 4, 1956, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis spent the afternoon and evening together at Sun Recording Studios in Memphis where producer Sam Phillips launched their respective careers into the rock stratosphere. This one-time, impromptu jam session is the basis of the nostalgic musical “Million Dollar Quartet,” the name given to the legendary foursome in an article that appeared in the Memphis Scimitar the day after the session.
While only two of the songs that were actually recorded that day in 1956 are performed in the show (the gospel standard “Peace In the Valley” and Chuck Berry’s “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”), audiences are treated to nineteen other classic songs, some that were hits for members of the quartet including: Perkins’ “Matchbox” and “Blue Suede Shoes” (also a hit for Presley); Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line”; Lewis’ “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”; and Presley’s ‘That’s All Right” and “Hound Dog."
The musical takes a few liberties with this historical event, including the introduction of Dyanne, Elvis’s date for the evening. She performs a sultry version of “Fever” and a rockin’ turn on “I Hear You Knocking.”
In 2008, “Million Dollar Quartet” opened at Chicago's Apollo Theater, a 440-seat venue where this writer and his wife saw the show this past April. The theater’s intimate setting made the audience feel like it was sitting right in the recording studio as Elvis, Carl, Johnny, Jerry Lee, Dyanne and Sam Phillips joked, laughed, argued and sang the night away.
While the talented actors/musicians in the Chicago troupe bear resemblance to the actual quartet members physically and musically, this is not a tribute show by any means.
“Million Dollar Quartet” is an energetic musical that delivers a rockin’ good time.