Closing their wonderful 50th Anniversary season, the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis avoids drama and gives us a fast a furious look at how rock and roll began with “Million Dollar Quartet.” Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, gathered, by happenstance but mainly by choice, four of his most famous clients in December of 1956. He knew he had what the public wanted and he was trying to keep everything the way it was but he knew he had an uphill battle.
This is the story but the real story is the music from rock, country and rockabilly legends, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis. It rings the rafters of the Rep until no one can stay still or even stay in their seats as hit after hit swarms over the audience. I was almost eleven years old at the time of this historic meeting and the first “rock” anthem I remember from my youth was one of the songs they all sing, “Rockin’ Robin.” But each legend gets a turn at the mike and they all combine for duets and foursomes throughout the evening.
John Michael Presney holds down the Carl Perkins role and, besides his singing, he demonstrates superior guitar skills. Sky Seals has the style of Johnny Cash and even sounds a lot like the icon who combined rock with country for a unique sound. Ari McKay Wilford plays the King with a lot of flair and the signature body moves and lip sneers. Finally, Dominique Scott plays the outrageous and flamboyant Jerry Lee Lewis with all the braggadocio you’d expect from this talented but very disturbed man. From “Who Do You Love?” to “Folsom Prison Blues” to “That’s All Right” to “Great Balls of Fire,” they all shine in signature numbers. Then, at the encore, they go even further with “Hound Dog,” “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” “See You Later, Alligator” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.”
This could have been called “Million Dollar ‘Quintet'” because Elvis brings along his latest girlfriend, Dyanne- given a lively and talented turn by Ryah Nixon. She smolders with “Fever” in the first act and, along with joining in on some of the other numbers, rocks us again in the second act with her rendition of “I Hear You Knockin’.” James Ludwig holds the spontaneous reunion together as best he can as Sam Phillips as the artists start dropping away from Sun Records like flies and he even shows some mean harmonica work. Rounding out the cast are Eric Scott Anthony as Carl’s brother Jay on bass and Zach Cossman as Fluke on percussion.
With a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, “Million Dollar Quartet” is directed with the emphasis on the music by Hunter Foster. John Michael Presney doubles as musical director and the Adam Koch set design is a perfect feel for the era. Lauren T. Roark has brought a real flair to the costumes including the dazzling “encore” numbers with plenty of color and spangles leading the way. The lighting design of Kirk Bookman explodes on the stage and makes it all a bedazzled and almost surreal world.
Like so many so called “juke box” musicals, it takes a small story and makes it work within the realm of the characters. But “Million Dollar Quartet” is powered by a group of skilled and talented people who started the rock and roll revolution. The world in general and the St. Louis area in particular just lost another rock icon who started his own revolution, Chuck Berry so it’s befitting that the Rep closes out their season with this wonderful, audience participation musical. Don’t miss “Million Dollar Quartet” as it splashes across the stage at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis through April 9th. Give them a call at 314-968-4925 for tickets or more information.