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Million Dollar Quartet (Review)

Great balls of fire!

By Rick Pender · February 20th, 2013 · Onstage
million dollar quartet- cody slaughter as elvis presley - photo joan marcusPhoto: Joan Marcus
If you're a fan of the early days of Rock & Roll, you'll be in heaven if you go to see the touring production of Million Dollar Quartet at the Aronoff Center this week and next. It's really more of a concert with dead-on impersonations of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley than a traditional Broadway show. It's based on a real event that happened on Dec. 3, 1956, when the four young stars converged at the Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tenn. Perkins and Lewis had a recording session; Cash was dropping by to discuss his contract; and Presley paid a visit to the place that had launched his career before selling his contract to RCA. A historic photo preserves their intersection.

Million Dollar Quartet does have a bit of a story — about Sam Phillips, the guy who recognized young, raw talent in singers and shaped them into the icons we know today. He was fiercely independent and couldn't really compete with the big labels (he sold Presley's contract in order to keep Sun Records afloat).

So the show uses him as a narrator who fills us in on the singers' early careers and describes how most producers thought Rock-and-Roll would be a short-lived phenomenon. Despite enticements, Phillips remained on his own for years, but his relationships with these four was affected by their ambitious career decisions. We witness those moments, distilled and paired with performances of a handful of each star's best-known songs. But it's more music than story: Even with a four-song "encore" following the curtain call, the show is only about 100 minutes with no intermission.

Four fine performers portray the singers. James Barry is Perkins, the tightly wound guitar wizard best known for "See You Later, Alligator." David Elkins is Cash, a deep-voiced, somber dude even as a young man. Cody Slaughter (who has been a top Elvis impersonator for years) has the moves, the voice and the occasionally bashful presence that personified the King of Rock-and-Roll. But the most eye-catching performance comes from Ben Goddard as the manic and irrepressible Jerry Lee Lewis. All four guys play their own musical instruments, but Goddard has completely mastered the hammering, bouncing style of Lewis — and he brings a constant stream of humor to the show. A fifth voice of note is provided by Kelly Lamont as Presley's girlfriend Dyann; she has two numbers: a steamy, sensuous rendition of "Fever" and a raucous, sexy delivery of "I Hear You Knocking." You'll come away from this production feeling as if you had the opportunity to experience the essence of these charismatic performers.

MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, presented by Broadway in Cincinnati, continues through March 4 at the Aronoff Center downtown.



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