Million Dollar Quartet

Through lively renditions of Rock and Roll hits, Million Dollar Quartet captures a snapshot in musical history: a jamming session between Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins at the recording studio that launched them into stardom, Sun Records. The man who started it all, Sam Phillips, watches over his musical prodigies with great pride yet uncertainty for the future. Directed by Ian Talbot, favourites such as “Great Balls of Fire” and “Blue Suede Shoes” bring the house down thanks to the musical talent of this show’s performers, but some weak links fail to push the energy over the edge.

Though jukebox musicals can struggle to evoke any kind of message, Million Dollar Quartet delivers powerfully emotive moments on remembering one’s origins.

The million dollar quartet itself is absolutely outstanding. In playing Carl Perkins, Matthew Wycliffe oozes star quality and unshakeable charisma. This is nicely contrasted with Rhys Whitfield as Elvis Presley, who portrays “the King of Rock and Roll” as an aloof and distant character that comes to life behind a microphone. Johnny Cash, played by Robbie Durham, absolutely nails this legend’s famous voice and his low notes are impressive. Jerry Lee Lewis’ less substantial acclaim is nicely embodied by Martin Kaye. Lewis continually aggravates the others with his boastful and uncontrollable personality, which brought some great humour. Kaye is electric at the piano and I often found my eyes drawn to him during the numbers.

Sadly, not all the performances are quite as engaging. Martin Kemp as Sam Phillips is supposed to be the gel holding this group together, and yet he consistently fades into the background, often looking awkward and out of place. Kemp’s asides to the audience regarding how he met each big name are fascinating, and yet ruined by drawling diction that makes his lines too easy to miss. Katie Ray’s performance as Dyanne, Presley’s girlfriend, is also disappointing. Her solos feel lacklustre and cheap thanks to some ungainly movement with the microphone.

Though the recording studio set is highly detailed and cleverly crafted, it seems too small for the gaping stage of the Edinburgh Playhouse. The void of empty space at the front is hard not to notice. This is thankfully compensated for with excellent lighting effects along the soundproofed panelling that add yet more vibrancy to the musical numbers.

Though jukebox musicals can struggle to evoke any kind of message, Million Dollar Quartet delivers powerfully emotive moments on remembering one’s origins. This imperfect performance remains worth a watch for fans of the Rock and Roll legends thanks its accurate portrayals of familiar tunes. They say don’t meet your heroes, but for this show make an exception. 

Reviews by Carla van der Sluijs

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The Blurb

4 December 1956: legendary record producer Sam Phillips brings together rock ‘n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for the first and only time. This is the story of one of the greatest jam sessions ever!

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