Music and theatre lovers got their Valentine’s weekend off to a rocking start Friday at the Chemainus Theatre.
The opening night of Million Dollar Quartet Feb. 12 had the audience clapping in time and up on its feet for several standing ovations and encores as Director Mark DuMez masterfully interwove the events that brought together Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins in early December, 1956.
“My sound don’t sound like no one else,” says narrator Sam Phillips, head of Sun Records.
Phillips speaks to the audience as he guides them through the rise of his Sun Records label and its legendary sound and star-making ability through to the departure of several of its biggest names. He is also a father figure of sorts as his “boys” all come home before going their own ways. He pushes them to do their best and then some, always believing each has a bit more left in reserve.
“If you ain’t doin’ somethin’ different you ain’t doin’ nothin,’” Phillips says at one point to Presley, adding “I want to hear your soul, boy.”
Million Dollar Quartet tells the true story of how Cash, Lewis, Presley and Perkins ended up in Memphis in 1956 playing music together. This first and only red-hot jam session led to the creation of many fan favourites including Fever, Great Balls of Fire, Walk the Line, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Hound Dog and more.
The actors really inhabit their roles, giving the audience the feeling they’re looking at a snapshot of the four icons. Montgomery Björnson lights up the piano with energy and creates hysterical scenes as a loudmouthed, hyper-talented and flirtatious Jerry Lee Lewis.
“These fingers got brains in ‘em!” he crows once.
“So that’s where they’ve been hiding,” answers Dyanne (Elvis’s girlfriend) as she listens to him play.
Cash, while playing Folsom Prison Blues, has Lewis remark that “my mama loves that song, reminds her of my daddy.”
Jonas Shandel really gets the gravitas, charm and voice of Cash, whose religious faith and family life put him on a crash course with Phillips’ plans for him.
“In this business you turn one wrong corner and they’re ready to do you in,” Cash says at one point.
Not to mention Cash is none too pleased with certain logistical aspects of Sun.
“If they want to stop the spread of communism they oughtta let Sun distribute it,” he jokes.
There is both a lighthearted and serious side to Million Dollar Quartet, as it showcases the genius of musicians who unfortunately were not always as lucky in their personal life. As Phillips says, regardless of what may have happened after that great day, he just wished his boys could have had more happiness in their own lives.
Daniel Kosub as Perkins shows the hardscrabble edges of a great musician, while Alexander Baerg puts in a good performance as Presley back to visit his roots.
Dyanne is played to perfection by Meaghan Chenosky. There is a bass player and drummer who are based on Perkins’s brother, and Fluke, who used to drum for Cash.
At one point Dyanne takes the microphone to sing Fever with sultry sway, raising the temperature in the theatre by at least several degrees, while both Fluke (Scott Carmichael) and Brother Jay (Kraig Waye) put in great supporting performances and keep the music hopping.
From fan favourites like Walk the Line to rousing keyboard crashers like Great Balls of Fire to Gospel standards like Peace in the Valley, Million Dollar Quartet takes the audience through highs and lows that musically defined a generation.
Million Dollar Quartet runs until March 26 at the Chemainus Theatre and is recommended for age 12 and up. For information or tickets call 1-800-565-7738 or visit www.chemainustheatrefestival.ca.