Million dollar performances in Million Dollar Quartet

Masks are now required in the lobby and in the theater


The Sun Records studio gathering on December 4, 1956 with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley when Perkins booked a recording session with producer Sam Phillips was a historical event. It was a kind of fluke that the four icons of music got together at the same time. Perkins was in a funk that the song he wrote “Blue Suede Shoes” had been recorded by Elvis. But the others, made famous by Phillips, somehow all showed up and held an impromptu jam session. It was the inspiration for “Million Dollar Quartet,” the rousing, affectionate musical showcasing their songs and personnas.

That show opened Wednesday night, August 4 at The Gateway. The entire cast embodies their characters in voice, musicianship, and seamless acting providing a wow factor performance along with the hits of the day. They are superb.

Nathan Burke (Carl Perkins), Steven Lasiter (Johnny Cash), Trevor Dorner (Jerry Lee Lewis/Music Captain), Jacob Barton (Elvis Presley), Sean Casey Flanagan (Sam Cornelius Phillips) have all played in either national tours, North American tours or regional productions of the musical and arrived at The Gateway on Saturday with just three days of rehearsal time. Ditto for Taylor Kraft (Dyanne), bassist Justin Bendel (Brother Jay) and drummer Mike Luccetti (Fluke).

Get ready to shake your shoulders, swivel your hips and tap your feet; within minutes of its opening, the company launches into the rousing “Blue Suede Shoes,” after Flanagan, as Phillips, introduces the story at his studio, sometimes on stage, sometimes off stage. Dorner as Jerry Lee Lewis is trying to get Phillips’ to sign him on, pounding the keys at the onset with “Real Wild Child.” He is brilliant capturing Lewis’s intensity and outlandish but talented piano playing, at times with one hand or foot, flipping the mic (yes, there are mics on stage), charming the audience with his over the top quips and confidence.

He calls himself the “Mutha humpinest piano man you’ve ever seen.”

A nearby audience patron confirmed the phrase. “This guy here, Jesus, he can play the piano,” he said.

But he’s not the only standout. They all are.

Burke as Carl Perkins navigates amazing riffs on his electric guitar creating outstanding notes from another universe. Lasiter as Johnny Cash gets the legend’s gentlemanly personality and bass-baritone voice dropping it amazingly low in songs like “Folsom Prison Blues” (watch the fabulous guitar playing as Lasiter and Burke jam on this one) and “I Walk the Line,” just two of his signature hits.

Elvis Presley started his career singing Dean Martin songs. That’s just one of the back stories revealed in the musical. Barton as Elvis shakes it up in his famous melodies like “That’s All Right,” with Dyann, getting the voice and the leg moves down pat. Also Elvis’s humbleness when he started out.

The bonus in this musical is that besides the main characters, the background actor/ musicians are an important part of the ensemble too.

Taylor Kraft plays Dyanne, Elvis’s girlfriend. Her sultry rendition of “Fever” wearing an aqua 1950’s style dress with her undulating body and amazing voice range is riveting. (Hear her voice scale jaw-dropping heights on several songs.) Justin Bendel as Brother Jay plays his bass upside down and sideways; Mike Lucchetti as Fluke the drummer elevates the sound with his snares.

They all tear it up with “Brown Eyed Handsome Man;” you just want to jump on stage with them, dancing, singing, whatever. The artistry, woooeee, baby.

It takes skill to bring a story along and Flanagan (Phillips) handles the job well. He’s about to announce Cash’s contract extension but the singer doesn’t want to continue with the Sun label and admits he’s jumped over to Columbia. It’s the same with Perkins. Presley has also signed on with RCA. They discuss their reasons and also their hardscrabble beginnings. Cash had a brother who dies at age 14. Elvis reveals he had an identical twin brother who died at birth. Lewis was from a sharecropper family.

This talented group clearly displays a walloping good time on stage, against a terrific studio set. They embrace the music, considered revolutionary then (it was banned by churches and parents). At the musical’s end, the cast returned for encores with “Hound Dog,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” “See You Later Alligator,” and “Shake Baby Shake,” with Dorner doing his wild, electric, man/child version of Lewis.

While the musical played here in 2016, The Gateway nailed it again with this uplifting story, sorely needed right now. It’s playing to August 21. (Masks are now required in the lobby and in the theater.)


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