BWW Review: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at Westchester Broadway Theater

Published: Tuesday, August 9, 2016 By: Kathryn Kitt Source: BroadwayWorld

It's not every day you see someone play a glissando on the piano with his foot." That in itself completely conveys what "Million Dollar Quartet" at Westchester Broadway Theatre is all about. Taking place on the afternoon of December 4,1956 in the recording studio of Sun Records, Sam Philips, the owner of the studio in Memphis, Tennessee, gives the backstory to how the impromptu jam session between the legendary Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Elvis Presley came about.

Laced with anecdotes and rockabilly favorites like "Blue Suede Shoes," "Hound Dog" and "Long Tall Sally," the actors each get their moments to highlight what made them such legendary performers. There were some poignant musical moments as well such as the gospel-themed "Down by the Riverside" and "Peace in the Valley"

The whole concept is really to enable Carl Perkins, with his brothers Clayton and Jay and W.S. Holland on Drums to record a new version of "Matchbox." Jerry Lee Lewis, who was an unknown at the time, was brought in by Sam Phillips to add some piano accompaniment to the arrangements. During the session, Elvis Presley showed up with his girlfriend, even though he was not a Sun artist anymore. Johnny Cash soon followed and that became the historical music making moment.

Hunter Foster, who originally played Sam Philips on Broadway, has directed this show with a loving understanding of the characters and action. His actors are quite comfortable on the stage and Jennifer Cody's co-directing and choreography is quite impressive. The action of the musical primarily takes place in one setting. Derek McLane's Scenic Design displays the music recording studio with a genuine 50's feel, complete with "Sun Records" as a backdrop. The Costume Design by Molly Walz was authentic and fun, especially in the last part of the show. The sound design by Jonathan Hatton & Mark Zuckerman was cohesive and words could be understood.

It certainly helps that all the actors/musicians were clearly the real deal. John Michael Presney as Carl Perkins played guitar with the technical and understated virtuosity that made Carl Perkins so effortless in his performances. Sky Seals as Johnny Cash impersonated the "man in black" down to the lower bass notes on "I Walk the Line" and had the least flashy part. Ari McKay Wilford as Elvis Presley had the pelvis moves down and gave a rocking performance of "That's Alright." Bligh Voth as Dyanne, Elvis's girlfriend is a good sport and has her own tour de force with Peggy Lee's "Fever." Rounding out the impressive band are Sam Weber as Brother Jay, who is quite the acrobat with his bass, and David Sonnenborn, who is the multi-talented Music Director and drummer named "Fluke."

However, it is Dominique Scott as Jerry Lee Lewis, who truly brings this production to another dimension. Hence the "glissando" quote from my 12-year-old son, Mr. Scott demonstrates all the showmanship, energy and fireworks that made Jerry Lee Lewis such a force of nature. One cannot truly take your eyes and ears off him and that is worth the price of admission. Playing through his catalog of "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," the finger dexterity is handled fluently by Mr. Scott. The old tale is that Elvis Presley himself left the session back in the day, for he did not want to follow Jerry Lee Lewis's playing. In this show, one can see why.

All and all, this show was a nostalgic and fun trip back into that era of music history. There is a certain sadness about these musicians, especially knowing how their lives turned out. However, for one day, all their troubles were tossed aside for the love of music.

Westchester Broadway Theatre has certainly done the right thing by mounting this production. The whole evening was a theatrically rewarding experience, exposing my 12-year-old to this musical experience was priceless.