'Million Dollar Quartet' is a raucous good time

Million Dollar Quartet

Through March 26

Music Hall at Fair Park

909 First St., Dallas




Posted 8:23am on Wednesday, Mar. 07, 2012

DALLAS -- In the past decade or so, much has been made of the concept of "jukebox musical," in which songs from an era of popular music are plunked down inside an original story. Think of it as an extension of the revue, which has been a theater staple for years.

Million Dollar Quartet finds the best of both worlds by using songs made popular from some of the pioneers of rock 'n' roll, performed by actor-musicians who not only have the musical skills, but the physical and acting prowess to pull off credible impersonations.

One of these characters is the most impersonated entertainer of all time -- Elvis Presley, played by Cody Slaughter in the tour of Million Dollar Quartet that opened Tuesday at the Music Hall at Fair Park.

The others are rockabilly king Carl Perkins (Lee Ferris), man-in-black Johnny Cash (Derek Keeling) and piano wildman Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye).

The musical brings them to the Memphis studio of Sun Records, where rock was born thanks to the ear and instincts of producer Sam Phillips (Christopher Ryan Grant, a Denton native). On Dec. 4, 1956, the musicians were photographed at Sun together, and that concept inspired Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux to write the show, which is directed by Eric Schaeffer.

Although Elvis had moved on to a more lucrative record deal, and Perkins and Cash were about to do the same (Lewis was the new kid in town), they all had a bond through Phillips. The writers of this musical imagine them having the world's greatest jam session ever, backed up by drummer Fluke (Billy Shaffer) and bassist Jay, Carl's brother (Chuck Zayas). They even throw in a woman character, Elvis fling Dyanne (Kelly LaMont), to knock the testosterone level down a notch.

The result isn't anything ground-breaking in terms of musical theater, but it's a raucous good time, especially with performers as talented as this crew. On Derek McLane's Sun studio set and in Jane Greenwood's costumes, Ferris, Keeling, Kaye and Slaughter rattle through such hits as Blue Suede Shoes, Folsom Prison Blues, Great Balls of Fire and Hound Dog, playing their instruments with such skill that they evoke the legends they're recreating.

Ferris' electric guitar riffs (as Perkins), Keeling's deep voice (as Cash), Kaye's bangin' piano chops (Lewis) and Slaughter's hip-and-knee swivel and curled-up lip are enough to allow for some serious escapism, back to a time when Phillips was the only American who knew rock 'n' roll was going to change American culture, and this landmark foursome kicked out the jams.

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