Million Dollar Quartet

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. …But it’s not enough to make a Broadway musical. On December 4, 1956, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis gathered with producer Sam Phillips at his Sun Records recording studio – the only time all four musical legends were together in such a venue. Word got out and a local photographer captured the four of them congregating around a piano and dubbed them the million dollar quartet. It’s a great photo and the session is legendary in the annals of rock and roll, but as a Broadway show, the Million Dollar Quartet falls flat.

The latest jukebox musical to hit Broadway is pleasant and there’s nothing objectionable about it, but it’s a rather dull production and the story that’s been strung together to create the book lacks compelling material. This would work much better as a touring revue rather than a Broadway show.

The cast is talented, if mostly lackluster, and they’re all good musicians. The four men playing the famed musicians, plus two back-up session players, play all the music live on stage. This is fun and at moments, you see flashes of what good guitarists or piano men these guys are. The problem is, that’s not why I go to see musical theatre. That’s why I go to concerts. Or to the symphony. Or why I watch It Might Get Loud.

I understand that the Broadway landscape is changing, particularly with regard to musicals. And I often find myself asking, as I did here, “What’s the point?” Sometimes a show means something, and it’s deep and important (like American Idiot) and sometimes it’s purely entertaining (like Movin’ Out) and both of those things are fine and have their place. But Million Dollar Quartet didn’t have a message or say anything important, and it wasn’t entertaining enough to just be entertaining. As a whole, the show lacks soul. And if there’s one thing Perkins, Presley, Cash and Lewis all had it was soul.

As I mentioned before, the four leading men played their instruments well, but three of the four of them were unexciting to watch. The exception is Levi Kreis as Jerry Lee Lewis. Kreis is the only one with charisma, begging me to watch him even when Perkins or Presley or Cash was doing a number. A skilled piano player, the charming Kreis has been with the show since it started being workshopped and with his engaging performance, it’s easy to see why. Also good was Elizabeth Stanley as Dyanne, Elvis’s girlfriend. She gives a slinky, sexy rendition of “Fever.” She’s a talented actress with a great voice – I saw her in the taped performance of Company (in which she played April opposite Raul Esparza’s Bobby) and saw her a few times in the short-lived Broadway adaptation of the John Waters classic Cry-Baby. I’m glad to see her on stage again but wish she had more to do.

The familiar songs all drew rowdy rounds of applause and the crowd seemed into the 90–minute, intermission-less show. Still, I think this would work much better as a concert revue. It’s already played engagements in Florida, Chicago and Los Angeles, so after the Tonys, it just may come to a town near you.