Thursday, March 29, 2012

Never-Ending Quartet

I’ve never liked Elvis or Johnny Cash much, and I’d never even heard of Jerry Lee Lewis or Carl Perkins before this show. So, I’ll admit I wasn’t looking forward to seeing Eric Shaeffer’s Million Dollar Quartet on March 27th at the State Theatre as much as other musicals I’ve seen. The acting was sturdy, the singing was great, but the real-life story of those four now-famous musicians working together at Sun Records in Memphis didn’t personally intrigue me.

At the beginning, the dialogue was a little over my head. Not because they were saying anything particularly complicated, but because they were talking in their southern accents a mile a minute and using phrases that were completely foreign to me! I got used to it after a while and could better understand what was being said.

Sam Phillips was played by understudy Scott Moreau, but his performance was that of a lead. All of the characters seemed natural, with the exception of Martin Kaye’s Jerry Lee Lewis. I’ve no idea how Jerry Lee Lewis acts in reality, but I hope he isn’t as obnoxious as this portrayal. Loud and self centered, he was a comic relief character with little depth. I thought Cody Slaughter made a great Elvis Presley. As soon as he was on stage I recognized his look and the way he walked and moved just screamed “Elvis!” (I said I wasn’t an Elvis fan, not that I didn’t know who he was, eyebrow-raising readers out there.) Lee Ferris played Carl Perkins, who seemed like a natural, though unpleasant man. I was just amazed by how believable the characters were. They seemed like people, not characters. They are based off real people in this real situation, but I wasn’t expecting the portrayal to be so successful. Derek Keeling’s Johnny Cash stole the show. His character made others seem like uptight losers compared to how relaxed he was. His voice was so low and soothing, when I thought whales were probably singing along with him, he dropped a few more notes. When he wasn’t singing, I wished he were. And honestly, I’d listen to Keeling’s singing over “Ring of Fire” by the real Johnny Cash any day.

The majority of the show took place in a small recording studio. The background of the stage was composed of tall pieces of brick wall with painted signs that made it feel like a warehouse district. The lighting was always changing colors with the mood of every song and helpfully conveyed indoors and outdoors. One thing that I couldn’t help but be distracted by was that the tiles on the wall of the recording studio looked like crackers. And no, I wasn’t hungry.

My favorite effects were at the end of the show. After being urged by Tom for a picture, the stage went black, there were large flashes, and camera shutter noises were heard. When the lights went up, there was a picture of the actual event, with the poses of the actors matched perfec... Wait. Their clothing. Oh. The costume designer, Jane Greenwood, should have paid more attention to that photo. It was close to being the same, but far enough that it pulled me out of the moment and made me shake my head at the costuming instead of smiling at the well-done effect.

The lights dimmed on the frozen scene and a closing monologue by Phillips. The applause started and people gave a standing ovation as we plunged into end-of-show-darkness.
...Then they brought the lights back up, to reveal glittery jackets descending from the ceiling and a giant wall of lights waving behind the actors in the middle of the stage! They each gaudily sang one of their greatest hits for maybe fifteen minutes, and walked off the stage with the lights dimming after them. It added a level of closure to the musical by showing how far their promised careers had gone.

...And then they walk back on stage again, Jerry Lee asking if we want to hear more of him. I personally could have gone without. It had been a long night, I was tired, but he ignored me and went on with the closing song, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”

...And then you could say the musical ended.

I felt this was a natural, well-done musical. I enjoyed it, but lacked the culture and musical knowledge to fully appreciate it. Maybe it’s not my thing, but any of you crazy rock’n’rollers out there should come to enjoy the show (or at the very least to enjoy Derek Keeling’s voice).

No comments:

Post a Comment