A FOOT STOMPING TRIUMPH ROCK’S THE ‘MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET’ IMMORTALIZES ROCK N ROLL HISTORY
My third visit to the historic Sun Studio, and I still only wanted more. I could probably see this show every week with a new cast and still be wowed. There aren't many musical moments bigger than the one that occurred on Dec. 4, 1956 when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley – who were all in their early 20s at the time-- came together for a jam session at Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tenn.
Broadway by the Bay recreates that night in electrifying fashion in this vintage rock and roll version of "MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET" that runs through June 24th. Thanks to an immensely talented cast, it doesn't take long for the audience to be pulled into the magic that is being made on this Redwood City stage. This version at the Fox Theatre venue is 90 minutes that runs without an intermission. There is a longer version but this wonderful story moves you to cheers and is the best way to open your Summer theatre season.
Directed by the clever Alicia Jeffrey says that she believes wholeheartedly in the transformative power of music “It has been a true joy to serve as director and music director for this production. Casting a show of this type can be complex (the) artists are musicians and actors”. Jeffrey had a very short rehearsal schedule. “This production came together with only fourteen rehearsals” that is less than half the time as BBB’s other musical productions.
Jeffrey is both music and stage director and keeps the show moving, it is non-stop music and personality. She brings the best of bay to make this show ring with classic rock and roll with a powerhouse cast that includes Tarif Pappu as Carl Perkins, Michael Perrie Jr. as Johnny Cash, Nick Kenrick as Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam C Jones as Elvis and Rich Matli as music producer, Sam Phillips.
The terrific Tarif Pappu steals the 90 min show with his performance as Perkins that is overwhelming as he sings “Who Do You Love”, “My Babe” and “Matchbox”. Pappu gives Perkins his angry edge that he holds against the King Elvis for covering his “Blue Suede Shoes.” I have seen Pappu play this part in the past at Palo Alto Players and this young actor delivers - and is not to be missed.
Jerry Lee Lewis’ performances also steals the evening, played by the charismatic Nick Kenrick who also is reprising the role both Pappu and he did for Palo Alto Players. Kenrick brings the energy early with a unrestrained version of "Wild One", and stops the show with his cocky fun whenever he is center stage including in the show stopping “Great Balls of Fire.” Kenrick brings Karina Chavarin’s costume designs up front being the brightest dressed of the four in a slick white belt and shoes with 50’s clean tan slacks. Kenrick is dazzling behind the piano and is rousingly impressive in capturing Lewis' frantic stage antics. The audience is made to feel like they are part of that moment, the interaction with the four icons had the opening night audience cheering. Producer Phillips played by the accomplished Rich Matli who often breaks the 4th wall to ask the sold out crowd questions about his all star boys. Matli shows his love for his artists and brings Phillips an authentic performance dealing with the change his rock and roll stars are about to experience.
The handsome Sam C Jones dead-on performance as 21 year old Presley shows he studied Elvis’ concert footage in order to give a performance as authentic as possible. Jones hyped “That’s All Right, and “Long Tall Sally” Elvis classics that dominate the jam session. The young Elvis arrives at the studio with his current girlfriend Dyanne, played by the stunning Sammi Hildebrandt. She is polished as she sings “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking” in the sleek wonderful stylish blue eye catching dress designed by Chavarin.
But standing taller and strong is the performance of Michael Perrie Jr's take on Johnny Cash. He embodies the sound and spirit of Cash, right down to his rich bass-baritone voice. His performance is spellbinding as he sings “Folsom Prison Blues” the crowd filled with many boomers clapped and sang along. Perrie brings cheers from the audience a few times as he performs the classic “I Walk The Line.”
Inside the detailed Sun Studio set with layered rooms lined with gold records designed by the award winning Kelly Tighe, includes a full back room of recording gear and room for the on stage two member band. Tighe also uses detailed concert set to change the mood of the performance that opens and closes the show. Props Master Jasen Jeffrey brings in holiday decorations, including a lighted tree, and he makes sure Jerry Lee has the correct booze, and glasses for drinks. The studio is filled with access to some high end audio gear. Jon Hayward’s sound design included both body mics and fully working classic vintage microphones and stands along with the mix of old school mic cords. The sound is booming and sets the Fox Theatre on rock n roll fire.
Jukebox musicals are often an excuse to overload baby boomer audiences with icon covers of beloved tunes, and that does happen in "MILLION" but when the gang gets going, they tear up the place, and the production has the pulse celebration of transporting you to a high energy, thrill of a great concert. Bringing millennials and Gen X’ers to their feet along with their silver haired grandparents.
Director Jeffrey visually handles the script's many sidebars, flashbacks and detailed narratives, most delivered by Rock Father Phillips. Matli is dapper on stage dealing with the deadline to go to NY to work with his boy Elvis at RCA or stay at Sun. Of course, these four Southern Baptist boys are more than impressive singing some gospel fare including a beautiful harmony version of “Peace in the Valley.” The snapping choreography in the novelty Perkins’ song “See You Later Alligator” was arranged by the boys and movement consultant, Camille Edralin.
There are 22 songs jammed into this 90-minute show, from the flash-bang of Lewis song "Real Wild Child" to the moving acapella harmonies of "Down By the Riverside" and "Peace In The Valley” This musical features an incredible score of rock, gospel, R&B, and country hits that are still on the charts today, including: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Sixteen Tons,”, “Hound Dog”, “Great Balls of Fire,” and “Let's Have a Party.” MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET, is co-authored by music historian Colin Escott and film producer Floyd Mutrux.
The production's “on fire” performance is Pappu as Carl Perkin’s, his aggressive playing seems sure to break his guitar and his fingers by the end of “See You Later Alligator”. Jerry Lee Lewis is the only member who is still alive, and Kenrick smokes “Great Balls of Fire”. His floppy curly hair and high-octane antics on the piano, belting classics like “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” while playing with his hands and feet. Superb and not unnoticed is the dynamite Daniel Murgula on standup Bass who plays Perkins’ brother, Jay. The young Murguia kills on the booming ‘slap’ style upright bass and drummer the accomplished Lane Sanders as Fluke rounds out the live onstage band.
The lighting for this show needs to go from an authentic studio feel to later a rock show party and lighting designer Aaron Spivey and Eric Johnson bring it full throttle. Spivey also adds his mix of holiday lights and the back rooms of the studio glow, as well as the flashback moments down stage. Stage manager Lauren Howry and her assistants Kate Patton and Gino Vellandi switch the set to a complete concert venue for the amazing closing concert. I am sure I saw smoke coming from Lewis’ piano and Perkins’ many guitars. Apart from the music, it is the interaction between the characters that makes this production so entertaining and awe inspiring.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is filled with over the top brilliant talent and a production team that is vibrant. The production's three encores are non-stop fun that you don’t want to end. This is the kind of show that invites dancing in the aisles. It is a fun and memorable blast from the past. Next up at BBB the producers move to the 1970’s with a disco dance party SATURDAY NIGHT FEVER that opens August 10th. In the meantime book your seats for the best 50’s rock party in the Bay Area and celebrate Season 52 at Broadway By the Bay’s there’s a “Whole Lotta Shakin’” goin’ on.
BROADWAY BY THE BAY PRESENTS
‘MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET’
Broadway by the Bay brings Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins to the historic Fox Theater
Book by Colin Escott, Music by Floyd Mutrux
Inspired by Elvis, Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Perkins
Directed by Artistic Director Alicia Jeffrey
Featuring; Rich Matli, Tarif Pappu, Nick Kenrick, Michael Perrie Jr., Sam C. Jones, Sammi Hildebrandt, Lane Sanders, and Daniel Murguia.
Must Close June 24th
The Fox Theater, 2215 Broadway, Redwood City, CA 94063.
For tickets www.broadwaybythebay.org.
Running time: 90 minutes no intermission
Photo Credit: Mark Kitaoka / Mark & Tracy Photography
THE ORIGINAL RECORDING FROM DEC 4 1956