Theatre review: Arts Club’s Million Dollar Quartet an excuse for great rock ‘n’ roll

Million Dollar Quartet

To July 9 | Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage

Tickets & Info: From $29 at artsclub.com

Peter Guralnick’s recent biography of Sam Phillips is subtitled The Man Who Invented Rock ‘n’ Roll. That’s an exaggeration, but there’s some truth to it. In his tiny Sun Records Studio in Memphis, Phillips produced the early hits of Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Roy Orbison and a host of other southern boys, creating a hybrid of white hillbilly music and black rhythm & blues that rocked the world.

On December 4, 1956, Presley, Perkins, Cash and Lewis – all in their early 20s – came together in the Sun Studio for the first and last time. When they started jamming, Phillips called in a reporter who dubbed the session The Million Dollar Quartet. This show dramatizes that session, though ultimately it’s an excuse to stage a lot of great ’50s rock ‘n’ roll.

Four rock ‘n’ roll legends come together in the Arts Club’s production of Million Dollar Quartet at Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage May 11-July 9.

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Four rock ‘n’ roll legends come together in the Arts Club’s production of Million Dollar Quartet at Stanley Industrial Alliance Stage May 11-July 9.

As with most jukebox musicals the dramatic structure is relatively flimsy. Phillips (Graham Coffeng) has recently sold Elvis’ contract to RCA and is being tempted to move over there himself. Elvis (Erik Fraser Gow) continues to pile up the hits but feels alienated at RCA. Cash (Jonas Shandel) is secretly about to leave Phillips and move to Columbia Records.

Bitter Carl Perkins (Kale Penny) feels that Phillips neglected his career in favour of Presley’s, resents Elvis for stealing his hit, Blue Suede Shoes, and loathes the new guy showboating on piano. That would be Lewis (Steven Greenfield), the egotistical, super-talented wild child, who just wants Mr. Phillips to make him a star.

The music and musicianship are simply terrific. Penny, a virtuoso guitarist, plays lead on most of the songs while Gow and Shandel play rhythm. Shandel absolutely channels Cash vocally and Greenfield is a demon on piano, slamming the keyboard at warp speed, playing backwards, with his feet, with his ass. Mathew J. Baker, as Carl’s brother Jay on stand-up bass, and Todd Biffard on drums provide the nasty rhythm section. Credit musical director Zachary Stevenson for the excellent arrangements.

And the tunes, oh my: Blue Suede Shoes, Who Do You Love? Folsom Prison Blues, Long Tall Sally, I Walk the Line, Great Balls of Fire, Hound Dog. Lauren Jackson as Dyanne, Elvis’ current girlfriend, sings Fever and See You Later Alligator. The boys, all with deep roots in the southern church, do lovely gospel harmonies on Down by the Riverside and Peace in the Valley.

My biggest fear with this kind of show is that the music will be sent up, trivialized for its nostalgia value. Arts Club director Bill Millerd never lets that happen, although

Source:: Vancouver Sun – Entertainment

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