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 The Theatreguide.London Review



Million Dollar Quartet
Noel Coward Theatre 2011

The worst thing to say about this Broadway import is that it is essentially just another tribute show, with guys you've never heard of pretending to be Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis.

The best thing to say is that the impersonations are pretty good, and you get to hear some hard-driving first generation rock'n'roll classics.

Generically and in terms of quality, this show lies somewhere between Jersey Boys (far better book) and Thriller (far worse evocation of the originals).

The take-off point for creators Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux is that Presley, Cash, Perkins and Lewis were all discovered by Sam Phillips of Sun Records in Memphis, and a photograph exists of the four of them in the Sun studios in December 1956 (See the album cover to the right).

Escott and Mutrux imagine, not unreasonably, a jam session, punctuating the songs with a bit of dialogue (mainly Phillips reminiscing about how they each began) and a bit of plot (mainly whether they'll move on to bigger record companies).

Characterisations are minimal - Presley is the visiting celebrity, Cash a simple country boy, Perkins (still smarting over Elvis's cover of Blue Suede Shoes eclipsing his original) the bitter premature has-been, Lewis the cocky beginner and class clown. (There's also Elvis's girl du jour, brought in just to have a girl there, and an excellent bass player and drummer.) 

Judged strictly as tribute acts, Derek Hagen's Cash is the most successful, capturing everything from his unique way of holding a guitar to the timbre of his voice. Michael Malarkey's Presley is also spot-on, both physically and vocally.

As Jerry Lee Lewis, Ben Goddard doesn't get the singing quite right, but captures the sound and excitement of the piano playing, including that take-no-prisoners right hand. Robert Britton Lyons doesn't come close as Carl Perkins, but you can easily forgive that because his high-energy guitar is the driving force behind all the numbers in the show.

And yes, we get to hear rocking and frequently very accurate sounding versions of Blue Suede Shoes and Folsom Prison Blues and Great Balls of Fire and Hound Dog and about twenty more (including a few that hadn't been written in 1956, but what's a little anachronism between friends?) 

I do have to insert a consumer alert here. It has become unfortunately common in musicals to have an 'At Certain Performances' alternate to the star, but this show has alternates (as well as understudies) to all four leads, and if you come on the wrong night you may see an entirely different cast.

At its best, the show rocks. At its worst, it might make you wish you were home listening to the originals.

But at its best, it rocks.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Million Dollar Quarter - Coward 2011