Original Rock And Roll Kings Return To WBT:Published: Friday, September 9, 2016 By: John F. Bailey Source: WPCNR STAGE DOOR
ORIGINAL ROCK AND ROLL KINGS RETURN TO WBT: The King, The Man In Black, The Killer, The King of Rockabilly Rock Westchester Once More in eternal performance of ultimate charisma: the Swaggers, the Smirks, the can’t-sit-down Power Drill Guitars, Pounding Piano, Over-the-Top Attitude of the Immortal MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET.
The King, The Man In Black, The Killer, The King of Rockabilly Rock Westchester Once More in eternal performance of ultimate charisma: the Swaggers, the Smirks, the can’t-sit-down Power Drill Guitars, Pounding Piano, Over-the-Top Attitude of the Immortal MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET – See it now, Alligator!
When John Michael Pressney as The King of Rockabilly, Carl Perkins, drops into Sun Studios December 4, 1956, to begin Million Dollar Quartet in leather jacket, with the trademark 50s scowl on his face, lighting a cigarette with a zippo lighter–
You’re back there on that old street corner outside the high school hop in your leather jacket, with “Titans” on the back, with attitude, white t-shirt jeans, tapping your motorcycle boots to Allan Freed spinning Perkins’ Blue Suede Shoes on 1010 WINS.
Westchester Broadway Theatre’s exclusive one month run of Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet brings that great feeling back in more than a memorial, more than a revival, a celebration of the original American attitude that has influenced music and styles of youth ‘round the world for 60 years.
The four artists Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash (the faces that should be on Rock’s Mount Rushmore if there was one) live once more, struttin’, brooding, fighting the system, blasting the old time rock and roll they created. They bring it back big time because it still sounds good today and makes you feel good just as it did then.
Million Dollar Quartet, WBT style, is no run-through of tired renditions of old songs wrapped around weak book—no way, daddio.
They’re back to let you know rock n roll is here to stay in a “re-viva drama,” bringing alive the young rebels of rock who created a lifestyle, a movement, a music, inspiring dozens of permutations of percussive persuasive rock styles giving millions their musical voices.
Carl Perkins, the rockabilly artist of Blue Suede Shoes fame, stops by for a recording session with his producer, Sam Phillips, (the fast –talking, deal-making, telephone talking Jason Loughlin, who plays the wheeler-dealer agent type right to type—I mean I know guys like this). Perkins is in the process of selling The King (Elvis Presley’s) contract – it’s the beginning of a night of a night that there should have been more nights to come.
Watching Sky Seals as Johnny Cash (The Man In Black), Ari Mckay Wilford as Elvis Presley (The King) and the steal-the-show, over-modulating Dominique Scott as Jerry Lee Lewis “The Killer” (who is going to wreck the WBT piano by the end of this exclusive one month run) the four give you and up-close-and-personal feel for why a generation of 50s chicks screamed and swooned, why guys wanted to become rock stars, and found themselves, their confidence and that swagger that has never wavered since rock and roll began.
There was only one night the original Million Dollar Quartet was together and that was to record gospel songs…but this musical-drama gives you the drama behind the music which was for these four struggling artists at the time was the one outlet where they were “Boss,” their ticket out of poverty.
But being a young star being “guided” by managers who want to use you and being courted by big entertainment companies that want to sign you is not all peaches and cream,my love. Other artists steal or cover your songs. You’re constantly working to find the next “hit.” Our teen idols in this show are at pivotal points – they are reluctant to leave Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun records who brought them to national fame. But they are torn between loyalty to Sam and the desire to reach the top of the use-you business: the record business.
They respect each other but are rivals just the same.
Perkins comes into Phillips’ studio to complain to Phillips that someone else is stealing his song. While he’s complaining to Phillips, Johnny Cash enters, exchanges pleasantries, but looks troubled. Next, the high-strung Jerry Lee Lewis walks, in settles into the piano and starts playing Blue Suede Shoes. Perkins has a fit that Jerry is accompanying and threatens Jerry. Jerry sulks and slides into Real Wild Child and that old WBT piano never sounded better. (They will have to bring in a new piano every week. Mr.Scott punishes that piano) By this time, just 10 minutes into the show, you Mr. and Mrs. Audience have your toes tapping and your hearts and your pacemakers on overdrive. Your kids will be jumping.
Meanwhile, Phillips keeps taking phone calls—it’s RCA wanting to buy the Elvis contract. You the audience sense the conflict an agent and producer has. You discover someone with talent. (Presley). You bring them along get them their first hits Mystery Train and That’s All Right inventing a whole new sound.Not country, but something with a beat making people move. They called it Rockabilly back then.
Now Elvis is big, Phillips’ studio needs cash. What do you do? If you’re the artist when you get an offer, what do you do? Do you leave the man who made you a star? This painful conflict on the uncertain road to the top and back is the heart of what makes this star turn musical not just music but a realistic feel for the uncertain cold world of the performer. You just want to perform, but you cannot perform unless people hire you.
Next to join the little group is the King, Elvis Presley in a tan sports jacket, brown pants, and two-tone white bucks absolutely alive solid Elvis (though his pompadour has to be poofed just a little higher) with his Ann-Margret –lookalike girlfriend Dyanne. This eye-catcher is played with 50s style in tight sweater and skirt by Bligh Voth who sings Fever a song that seems to ignite the studio with male interest.
This little number induces Jerry Lee to sidle up to Dyanne creating conflict. Phillips calms this down by getting Elvis to try a new record That’s All Right right after Elvis hilariously attempts a Dean Martin song as a possible follow-up. Phillips is having none of that.
As the banter and the tape in the control room on this great set keeps rolling, Johnny Cash steps into Folsom Prison Blues—playing his own guitar part. Sky Seals who has the high cheek bones the pale look and the haggard look of the real Cash, hits the fabulous Cash bass parts on Folsom “probably drinking coffee and smoking big cigars,” “Let that Lonesome whistle blow my blues away,”with the famous Cash grindy, graveling, wistful regret that is pure Cash and unrepentant.
After That’s All Right, Jerry Lee and Carl Perkins, not to be outdone in this battle of the Rock Gods do Brown Eyed Handsome Man.
Part of the intrigue of this show is the chance to hang out with stars, hobnobbing in a studio when they are interacting, drinking, smoking, posturing, kidding, insulting, flirting with Dyanne the Girl Friend, the things guys do in a studio. It’s very realistic interaction.
Even the Girl Friend, Ms.Voth playing Dyanne sings a rocker, I Hear You Knockin. She rhythm and blues this with just the right swagger and sass, and no-nonsense like LaVerne Baker. She balances bass elegantly, too. Priceless!
Sky Seals’ Johnny Cash shows them who’s boss, a tall, imposing, Christ-like figure, sliding into Sixteen Tons. He grips the audience rapt evoking respectful silence with his ode to the toughness and grit of America’s miners of Appalachia who were in the news in the mid-fifties, victims of coal mine cave-ins.
Hearing Seals, you believe it’s Johnny Cash singing, as if the spirit of The Man In Black has taken over Sky Seals’s body, that’s how meticulous Seals is in this very nuanced country song. A lot of work by Mr. Seals in perfecting this role – Cash the ultimate male country singer of the last 60 years.
After a reprise of Blue Suede Shoes—with all four reincarnations. Elvis (he can’t be Ari McKay Wilford, it must be the real Elvis), does a bring –down-the-house, dance-in-the-aisles Long Tall Sally—rotating his hips, doing all the Elvis guitar moves you expect while playing his own guitar solos—as John Michael Presney as Perkins does, too. The Wilford Elvis (perfected as Elvis on the MDQ National Tour) Long Tall Sally is a precise rendition of the actual Presley recording of Long Tall Sally.
It has to be Elvis inside Mr. McKay Wilford’s body singing by some spiritual phenomenon. (Call Ghostbusters!) Tell you why, when Mr. Wilford’s Elvis sings Peace in the Valley next—the inflections, the reference, the depth of voice, the pace cannot be differentiated from the Presley record, I swear it. One of the great acting accomplishments you will see is Mr. Ari McKay Wilford’s Elvis.
Mr. Wilford conveys his concern about leaving Sam Phillips for RCA, Dianne as a go-between, gives us an insight into how Elvis was all his life – not knowing what he wanted. “Can’t you see,” Dianne says to Phillips, “He’s lost.” This is a powerful line perhaps revealing why we sing our rock and roll in the first place it makes us free, but ironically we love our art so much, it makes us unhappy. Ms. Voth as Dyanne does more than decorate the studio, she acts as the go-between with Presley and Phillips to demonstrate the heartbreak beneath the fame, and carries it off well.
Constantly switching back and forth from phone calls to record Mr. Bigs, to controlling his stars’ egos, Jason Laughlin as the peripatetic Sam Phillips is shocked to learn that Johnny Cash is leaving him,too. When he confronts Johnny about it the dignified shame Cash feels is a quiet meaningful moment spoken without words but by the expression on Cash’s face — so well is it portrayed by Mr. Seals it is just as Johnny would have acted. Phillips, for his part, realizes it is part of this crazy music business.
At one point, Phillips says, “If you’re not different, you’re nothing,” underscoring the constant pain of developing talent, only to lose it, or not make it.
The show wraps up with the best big final number they have ever staged here. Sam Phillips introduces
Elvis Presley (Ari McKay Milford again, I forget they are the same people) ripping into Hound Dog making his guitar sing, slashing out the famous rebellious guitar riffs only been heard on Hound Dog to this day, they are so unique.
Johnny Cash with Mr. Seals his alter- ego hitting the signature “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash” line just like he always did takes us to the wild west with one of Johnny’s great recordings, Ghost Riders in the Sky. Mr. Seals rounds up those signature fantastic bass guitar chords on this song so well you feel the wide open wind of the range, see the endless sky of clouds and the way the range makes you feel small. And a “whoopee AI Oh KI YAY” to Bligh Voth for the ghostly “Ooo oooooooo oooo OOH’s” in the backup.
Carl Perkins, John Michael Presney rocks the joint with See Ya Later Alligator, where he’s backed up by the fantastic bassman , Sam Weber, who climbs on the bass, supports Mr. Presney on it and generally shows off the rockabilly bass beat that juiced these early hits in unforgettable style rock hillbilly style. Musical Director David Sonneborn, the drummer on the original Million Dollar Quartet tour, served up the big beat to back these three musician-actors who play their own guitars and pianos.
Last but not least Jerry Lee Lewis the dynamic Dominique Scott gets you dancing in the aisles – though WBT does not allow it—with a classic “Killer” song, Whole Lotta Shakin Goin’ On. He pounds those ivories with his feet, his fingers, his toes, and keeps the beat. The only thing missing was a split with a stand-up microphone—but Elvis did that. Scott is outrageous throughout, overmodulating with the boundless energy that made Jerry Lee Lewis a star. Scott captures the Jerry Lee Lewis we used to know.
I kind of liked this show, can you tell?
Westchester Broadway Theatre recreates the personalities of Rock’s Prime Ministers of the Big Beat and the rockers of all time live once more, rip chording their own guitars making you new again, pounding their own pianos into your soul, and sounding uncannily eerie as if Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis gave them their voices for one night.
They are that good. It’s the most fun show you can see this summer. See it now, Alligator.