Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 13, 2016

Million Dollar Quartet

Majestic Theater, West Springfield, MA
through October 23, 2016
by Tim O’Brien

On December 4, 1956, rockabilly star Carl Perkins and his band prepared to cut a record at legendary Sun Studios in Nashville. When Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley dropped by, the jam session that took place was dubbed by a local reporter as “The Million Dollar Quartet.”

Based on that true event, the musical version rocks and rolls, packing 20+ hit songs, jubilantly played and sung live by an impressive group of musician/actors. With the Majestic’s own Danny Eaton producing and directing and Pioneer Valley music master Mitch Chakour overseeing musical direction, there’s no chance anything would go wrong in their very capable hands.

Jay Sefton is excellent as Sun impresario Sam Phillips, regularly breaking the fourth wall to describe the action and the subtext of the action on that long-ago December night. Phillips is determined to ink the fast-rising Cash to a contract extension this very evening, a deal that should lock up a lucrative future for both. Sefton plays his character adroitly with equal parts southern gentleman, sharp-eared discoverer of talent and shrewd businessman.

Colin Patrick Ryan also shines as Elvis, not yet 22 but already near the peak of his powers. By backing well away from the campy, bloated figure of his destiny, the young “King of Rock” is still vulnerable, self-aware and simply looking to enjoy a night of music among these talented friends.

Corbin Mayer takes on Johnny Cash, in real life nearly three years older than Elvis at the time. Mayer’s youthful face and trim haircut do little to help create that image of relative maturity, but he sings with a rich, soulful baritone that does great justice to the canon of familiar Cash tunes.

Dan Whelton has a nice turn as the guitar-slinging Carl Perkins, ever-smiling and county-dignified as the rockabilly luminary desperately seeking a follow-up hit to “Blue Suede Shoes.” Kaytlyn Vandeloecht is the lone female presence as Dyanne, Elvis’ date for the night. She stands out with a couple of solos (“Fever” is plenty hot, indeed), sweet harmonies, and lots of energetic tambourine playing.

Brian Michael Henry as Jerry Lee Lewis grabs this reviewer’s attention the most. Opinionated, cock-sure of his talent and with a chip on his shoulder, “The Killer” reminds the others that rock ‘n roll is the playground of the devil, all the while rocking the piano with the fury of Lucifer himself.

A smart, compact set and a snappy rockabilly trio of local players flesh out the production wonderfully.