Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ogunquit Playhouse Presents "Million Dollar Quartet" - Great Balls of Fire! - Through September 19th

Ogunquit Playhouse continues its strong 83rd season with a rollicking production of "Million Dollar Quartet."  On a winter's night in December of 1956, Sun Records founder Sam Phillips brought together four of his record label's current and future stars for a once-in-a-lifetime evening of musical collaboration.  On that evening in Memphis, he had called together Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley.  The occasion was a recording session for Carl Perkins' next release.  Knowing that the other musicians were in town, Phillips asked them to stop by, and what happened that evening is the stuff of legend. "Million Dollar Quarter" as a classic "juke box musical" captures what happened that evening by weaving a story of conflict and collaboration around some of the great hits that these four musicians made famous.

In order for the show to work, two things need to happen.  The actors/musicians need to be so proficient in their singing and playing that they can recreate live versions of these iconic rock and roll tunes. Second, the audience must agree to suspend disbelief and enter into the spirit of that landmark evening in 1956.  In the case of the Ogunquit Playhouse production of this musical, both dynamics are at work. The cast is impressive and the results of their individual efforts and collaborations are two hours of memorable music interspersed with snippets of drama as we learn of the intrigues happening behind the scenes regarding contracts between Sun Records and these four musicians. Director Hunter Foster does an excellent job in showcasing the fine cast that he has assembled. They play their music and live out their communal evening on a beautiful set designed for Broadway by Derek McLane, with additional elements by Adam Koch.  Costumes by Richard Latta help to recreate the look and feel of the famous musicians, Lighting by Richard Latta and Sound by Kevin Heard complete the job of realistically recreating the small recording studio that put tiny Sun Records on the map.

  • As Sam Phillips, Jason Loughlin anchors the evening.  He narrates the story threads and tells of his own struggles to decide whether or not to follow Elvis to New York City and accept a contract with a major record label that would mean the end of Sun Records as he had known it.
  • Robert Britton Lyons portrays Carl Perkins as the one-hit writer and performer of "Blue Suede Shoes."  He is struggling to record another hit, and resents the fact that Elvis sang his song on national TV, and most people now associate that song with Elvis rather than with Carl.
  • Maine native Scott Moreau brings a very sonorous deep bass voice to his Johnny Cash portrayal, His renditions of "I Walk The Line" and "Riders In The Sky" are among the best parts of the show.
  • Jacob Rowley bears an uncanny resemblance to young Elvis Presley.  He has mastered not only the sound of The King, but his slightly pouting and reticent mannerisms.  It is a hauntingly effective portrayal.  His "Long Tall Sally" and "Hound Dog" had the place rocking.
  • Nat Zegree nearly steals the show as the quirky and frenetic Jerry Lee Lewis.  From his first outburst to the last chords, he commands both the keyboard and the stage.  The level of energy that is required to portray the always-wired Lewis is high voltage indeed, but Mr. Zegree never wavers in generating that high level of electricity.  His performance in this role is a tour de force, both in terms of his acting and his musicianship on the piano. "Great Balls of Fire" - indeed!
Nat Zegree as Jerry Lee Lewis
Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash
Bligh Voth as Dyanne
Robert Britton Lyons as Carl Perkins
Jacob Rowley as Elvis Presley
"Million Dollar Quartet"
Ogunquit Playhouse
Through September 19th
  • Boston Conservatory alumna Bligh Voth adds a nice balance as Elvis' girlfriend, Dyanne.  Her performances of "Fever" and "I Hear You Knocking" are highlights.
  • Rounding out the cast are Sam Weber as Brother Jay on bass and David Sonneborn as drummer Fluke.
As always, tickets to shows at Ogunquit go fast.  If you would like to see this excellent celebration of early rock and roll, get your tickets now.  The show runs through September 19.



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