Sunday, July 25, 2010

Million Dollar Quartet @ Nederlander Theatre

What happens when four music legends come together for a night of memories, loyalty, and rock n’ roll? Well, the new Broadway musical Million Dollar Quartet happens. Filled with old time classic hits like “Hound Dog” and “Great Balls of Fire,” this show is a fun look back at the birth of rock n’ roll.

Currently playing too sold out audiences at the Nederlander Theatre, Million Dollar Quartet tells the true story of what happens on December 4, 1956, when Sam Phillips brings together Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley for one night only at the legendary Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Throughout the course of the night we see Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster) desperately try to hold his studio together by bringing in four singers who would eventually go on to great stardom. First, we met Jerry Lee Lewis (Levi Kreis), a young piano player who has recently recorded his first album with Sun Records. There is no doubt in Lewis’s mind that he is going to be the next big rock n’ roll star. Soon after, Carl Perkins (Robert Britton Lyons) enters desperate to find another hit after losing “Blue Suede Shoes” to none other than Elvis Presley. Johnny Cash (Lance Guest) enters third with a huge secret that will endanger the future of Sun Records. Lastly, Elvis Presley (Eddie Clendening) joins the group and brings along his girlfriend Dyanne (Elizabeth Stanley). Throughout the course of the night, we watch as friendships are tested and great rock n’ roll is recorded. All of which concludes with an after-show concert featuring hits from all four super stars.

Million Dollar Quartet is an all around entertaining show with some minor flaws. These said flaws have absolutely nothing to do with Levi Kreis’s wonderful interpretation of Jerry Lee Lewis. Kreis delivers one of the best performances to hit Broadway in a long time (hence why he won the 2010 Tony Award for Best Supporting Actor in a Musical). Kreis commanded the stage with his wonderful acting chops, spot on comedic timing, and thrilling piano skills (including playing it backwards). He had perfect chemistry with the other five performers on stage. Kreis’s performance is one that is not to be missed by anyone! While Kreis is a hard act to follow, Hunter Foster does a fantastic job portraying studio owner Sam Phillips. While true Broadway fans know Foster for his great singing chops, Foster delivers a completely song-less performance that relies completely on his strong acting skills. Foster does an outstanding job from start to finish delivering a performance that is worth a Tony Award. Robert Britton Lyons and Lance Guest, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash respectively, hold their own on stage with Kreis and Foster. Lyons delivers a non-stop high energy performance that concludes with him rocking out on top of a bass. Guest delivers a perfect laid back performance that resembles Johnny Cash perfectly. Both Lyons and Guest bring down the house during their after-show performances. The weak link, however, eventually came with Eddie Clendening’s portrayal of Elvis Presley. Clendening failed to deliver the proper energy that was needed when playing “The King of Rock n’ Roll.” Most of his lines were muffled and un-understandable with his songs falling flat and lacking any energy. This is one case where I would have preferred to see the understudy Erik Hayden (who is a seasoned actor who has appeared in many Broadway touring productions). Elizabeth Stanley, who portrays the fictional character of Dyanne, has a lot working against her. She is the only fictional character in Million Dollar Quartet, has a weak leading man, and has a painfully boring introduction song; however, through it all, Stanley delivers a truly beautiful performance. She is heartwarming and fierce at the same time. With a wonderful voice, she commands attention every time she is at a microphone (and, the audience gladly gives her their attention). With a cast of six, five are stunning and absolutely perfect for the roles that they are playing.

Most of the flaws came in the technical aspects of the show. A great story, memorable songs, and wonderful acting cannot be the only highlights of a show. In order for a show to be all around wonderful, it requires spot on design and direction, and, unfortunately, Million Dollar Quartet failed in this area. The scenic design by Derek McLane was visually stunning and extremely impressive (especially when an entire set gets lifted into the air). However, Sun Records was made to look way too modern. With red leather paneled walls, McLane lost sight that this play takes place in 1956 (not 2010). Throughout the play, the characters go back and forth between inside to studio and outside the studio requiring a change in lighting. Unfortunately, lighting designer Howell Binkley took the idea of night to far leaving the actors in a mist of blue light every time they were supposed to be outside (leaving the scenes extremely dark). At some points in the show, the character Sam Phillips has to talk into a microphone from inside the studio recording booth, leaving it up to sound designer Kai Harada to insure that the audience can still hear him. However, almost every time this occurred, the line was completely lost in static or simply not heard at all. While I hold these professionals responsible, it is also the fault of director Eric Schaeffer for not correcting these problems (along with the many staging problems that he had). As a whole, Million Dollar Quartet failed in the technical side of theatre.

Overall, Million Dollar Quartet is a very entertaining show that will surly delight fans of the 50s and 60s rock n’ roll generation. And, for all of the Broadway and theatre fans listening, Million Dollar Quartet is a show to see for one very big reason, Levi Kreis’s absolutely stunning performance.

Review By: Ryan Oliveti & James Russo


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