Million Dollar Quartet At The Ogunquit Playhouse
Through November 6th
reviewed by Bobby Franklin
Last year the Ogunquit Playhouse had a huge hit with Million Dollar Quartet, the fictionalized account of the day in December, 1956 when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash all happened to drop into the Sun Records studio and proceeded to participate in a memorable session of music and talk. The show was so popular Playhouse Artistic Director Brad Kenney decided to bring it back to cap off what has been a truly incredible season.
While the meeting between the four legends did indeed take place, and it was the only time they ever performed together, the authors of the play decided that instead of recreating that day song for song, they would give us a look at what went on over a longer period. While doing this they include some very interesting history of the early days of rock and roll, a music many never expected to last more than a short while. We get to know Sun founder Sam Phillips, a man who had an amazing eye for talent, but the inability to hang on to those performers once he got them started. Without Sam Phillips there probably would not have been rock and roll.
While the history lesson is important and well done, Jason Loghlin is outstanding in the role of Phillips, it is the music that electrifies the stage in Ogunquit. This show puts the heat in those Great Balls of Fire that blaze across the stage.
Nat Zegree is frenetic and a real wild child in the part of Jerry Lee Lewis.He is one damn good piano player as well as an acrobat who uses the keyboard as his personal pummel horse. At times I was looking for the wires that I thought must be attached to him as he was flying through the air so much, but he performed with no strings attached and burned up the stage from beginning to end.
James Barry portrays the legendary Carl Perkins brilliantly. He not only was note perfect on the guitar, but he conveyed a respect for the man who it can be argued was the father of rock and roll. Barry gives us the music and the man. The public should never forget Carl Perkins and his importance in the history of rock and roll. James Barry is seeing that they never will.
While it is unclear whether or not Johnny Cash actually joined in on the original jam session, it is a fact that he was a major player in the early days of Sun Records. With Scott Moreau cast as the young Cash, we see him again with his deep voice and haunting look. Moreau should consider doing a tribute show dedicated just to Johnny Cash. He captures him beautifully.
Oh, there was another musician there that day. His name was Elvis Presley. Elvis had moved on from Sun Records and had hit the big time, but his heart was still in the Memphis studio. Beau Cassidy takes on the young Elvis, and, contrary to what many believe, it is a difficult part to play. How do you capture the amazing talent and charisma of the 1956 Elvis without looking campy and exaggerated? Mr. Cassidy is not an Elvis impersonator. He does not stand on the stage and do a take off on Elvis. Instead, he gives us a look into the heart of the man who, while he has made it big, is still very much at home in the small studio with old friends and a new talent. Cassidy captures Presley with his eyes more than his hips and it works very nicely. Oh, you will not be disappointed in his renditions of the music as he gets it right on every number.
Mr. Kenney has assembled his own million dollar quartet with the performers he has found for the parts. Each is an accomplished musician who can also act. They play well separately and are rock solid when performing together. They are backed up by Nathan Yates Douglass as Carl’s brother Jay on bass and by David Sonneborn on drums.
Bligh Voth plays Elvis’s girlfriend and she also sings two numbers, the very, very hot Peggy Lee hit Fever and the rocking I Hear You Knocking. Voth almost just about makes this a million dollar quintet.
The weather may be cooling as the season changes, but it is hotter than a summer heatwave at the Playhouse. I highly recommend Million Dollar Quartet. This show will leave you with a whole lot of shaking going on.
Million Dollar Quartet now through November 6th.
Ogunquit Playhouse, Ogunquit, ME