Thursday, July 10, 2014

Million Dollar Quartet, PlayhouseSquare

(From left: John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis, James Barry as Carl Perkins, Tyler K. Hunter as Elvis Presley, and Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash)

Yes, the awesome foursome is back in town, celebrating the harmonic rock/country convergence when Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins convened at the Sun Records studio in Memphis.

That occurrence in 1956 didn’t exactly cause a rip in the space-time continuum, since the careers had yet to fully blossom, but it was a gathering heard round the world. Especially now, thanks to this jukebox musical tribute build around a flimsy book by Colin Scott and Floyd Mutrix.

At first glance, this production feels almost like a Muppet Babies version of the show, since the actors are shorter (and a couple of them wider) than the originals, who were all six feet tall (or more) and pretty lean in those early days.

But hey, it’s hard enough to cast four guys who look and sing like their icons while also accompanying themselves on the appropriate instruments.  And from the performance standpoint, this group acquits themselves well.

The songs are the thing in this show, and the 90 minutes pass with a number of familiar hits being given the star treatment. As Carl Perkins, James Barry has a mean sort of backwoods snark to his aura, and he plays a mean git-tar.

Scott Moreau has that Johnny Cash bass thing working, doing a scorching version of “I Walk the Line.” As the loose cannon Lewis, John Countryman pounds the upright piano with skill and force, using both his hands and feet. But his character’s wild child wackiness seems forced at times.

In the key role of Elvis, Tyler K. Hunter has the hair and the snarl down pat. But his vocal impression is no better than you might hear at a lot of worshipful EP gatherings.

Indeed, these four guys do their best when singing together and not trying to impersonate the singers, such as on the songs “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” and “Down by the Riverside.”

The book touches on some conflicts among the singers and Sun Records owner Sam Phillips (a scenery-chewing Vince Nappo), and a dust-up over “Blue Suede Shoes” between Perkins and Presley. But mostly, the story is just there as spacers between the songs.

The fab four are assisted ably by Stephanie Lynne Mason, who plays Elvis’s current squeeze Dyanne and sings a couple tunes.

Directed by Eric Schaeffer, the production actually has plenty of energy, more even than the recent less-than-stirring visit of Jersey Boys. And they’ll get you to your feet at the end, with a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on.

Million Dollar Quartet
Through July 27 at PlayhouseSquare, Ohio Theatre, 1615 Euclid Avenue, 216-241-6000.

No comments: