The Liverpool Empire Theatre is rockin’ this week, with Jason Donovan playing an understated role as the legendary producer Sam Phillips. If you like your blues music, like your theatre and like them played out exceptionally well, then Million Dollar Quartet is guaranteed to tick all the boxes.
January 4, 1956. Sun Studios, Memphis. An impromptu jam between four of the world’s greatest Rock ‘n’ Roll icons: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins. Jerry Lee Lewis. Sam Phillips, their founder – along with other luminaries such as Howlin’ Wolf, BB King and Roy Orbison – is at the helm and what follows is nostalgic gold.
With Ashley Carruthers as Jerry Lee Lewis exemplifying superbly the man’s bravado, braggadocio, bounce and ballsyness on the piano during the opening Wild One, Million Dollar Quartet never really looks back.
What’s clever here though is how the individual stories are woven – via brief flashbacks – through the songs. Elvis was discovered by accident when jamming It’s Alright Momma, Cash wanted to sing gospel, Perkins was desperately searching for a follow up to his hit Movie Magg and Jerry Lee Lewis, well, always knew he was destined for stardom but needed a vehicle.
As Perkins, Matthew Wycliffe is all pent up frustration given free reign once the guitar is in his hands to deliver time and again. As Cash, Robbie Durham’s smooth, smoky vocals are an absolute throwback to the singer’s heady hey-day with barely a note out of place and, as Presley, Ross William Wild demonstrates The King’s vulnerability and astute understanding that from the early stages he was trapped in the clutches of Colonel Parker flawlessly.
For some reason Marilyn Evans – Presley’s then girlfriend, who accompanied him to the session – is here called Dyanne. However, make no mistake, Katie Ray can certainly delivers and her version of Fever provides exactly that, with all the chills and goosebumps such a condition encourages but with none of the sickness.
It is Carruthers though who truly stands out. The way he poses his wrists in that familiar upright stance, the runs he gives across the keyboards, the cheek, the self-belief and the refusal to be cowed by these exemplary peers – or his manager – puts right there alongside the great, if troubled rocker and never lets us go.
Million Dollar Quartet is a show that works on many levels. Great live music performed by the cast, great acting, superb vibes and – above all – a feel good sensation that ripples from first to last, all that remains to say is stop reading this and go book yourself a ticket while you can.
Million Dollar Quartet
The Liverpool Empire Theatre
February 13 – February 18, 2017
Director: Ian Talbot
Cast Includes: Jason Donovan, Ross William Wild, Matthew Wycliffe, Robbie Durham, Ashley Carruthers, Katie Ray
Running Time: 2 hours 15 minutes
PR RATING: **** Rockin’ and Rollin’