By Larry Taylor/Garden Grove Journal
It’s a knockout – the last scene of “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts — and worth the price of admission. This big climactic number features four legendary country-rock stars gathered together singing a barrage of their hits – Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and, last, no means least, Elvis Presley.
Put together by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, this touring Tony Award-winning musical revue is based upon a famous accidental recording session back on Dec. 4, 1956. The circumstances – country-rock guitarist-singer Carl Perkins came to Sun Records in Memphis to record. Sam Phillips (the excellent Christopher Ryan Brant), the company’s founder and star-maker, had also invited Jerry Lee Lewis, a budding performer with a fiery style, to come and add his energy to the session.
Prior to starting, Sun stars Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash dropped by. Both had issues to discuss with Phillips. Presley had also brought along a girlfriend, Dyanne (a capable, attractive Kelly Lamont) She hangs around to sing a couple songs and also becomes a sounding board for the others’ grievances.
What happened next is the stuff of myth. The four men were persuaded to jam for hours, putting on vinyl a set of blues, gospel, bluegrass and country tunes, music that makes up the heart of the rock canon. Songs associated with the individual stars are included: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “That’s All Right,” “I Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Hound Dog,.” “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Goin’ On,” and the list continues.
The cast mostly does a good job with the roles –Lee Ferris as Carl Perkins; Derek Keeling plays Johnny Cash; Cody Slaughter channels Elvis Presley; Martin Kay is a whirlwind Jerry Lee Lewis. There are a couple qualifications, though. Keeling as Cash, lets his voice go a little too deep but really gets the crowd on board early on with “Folsom Prison Blues.” Director Eric Schaeffer lets Kay play Lewis too broadly as he emerges clown-like at times. But overall Kay’s Lewis revs up the show’s energy when he is on, standing on the piano, pounding keys, generally unleashing rock mayhem
They all capture the stars appearance and physical characteristics. Slaughter especially has Presley’s flashy moves and hip-wiggling down. The singers are well supported by a first-rate rhythm section – Chuck Zayas plays bassist Jay Perkins, Carl’s older brother; Billy Shaffer, Fluke, a session drummer.
In the beginning, Phillips describes the stars-to-be’s first meeting with him, usually in flashbacks. Each came with a unique talent. They were raw with blue collar roots, and with their ambition, he was instrumental in making them stars.
There are only three more days to see this amazing show. It plays through May 6 in Costa Mesa.