On December 4, 1956 they played together for the first and only time...
by Mike Woody
The portrayal of a historic night in 1956 is the makings of a legendary show at La Comedia, which is unlike any other production in the theater’s forty plus year history. Every note of music is played live on stage by the extremely talented cast, who creates a stirring fun-filled rhythmic atmosphere that is impossible to sit still through. Anyone who doesn’t dance in the aisles is guaranteed to at least do a lot of toe tapping. The Million Dollar Quartet consists of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash, they prove themselves worthy of the title.
Based on a true story, The Million Dollar Quartet highlights the impromptu jam session by the four legendary musicians at the Sun Record studio in Memphis. The owner of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, is also present and he is who is largely responsible for first national exposure that the artists received. If there were a Triple Crown award in theater, the entire cast of The Million Dollar Quartet would be winners as they have to act, sing, and play an instrument. They all don’t just do all three, they do them at the highest possible level. I saw a national touring production of this show a couple of years ago at the Schuster Center and to be completely honest I fully expected this to be a generic/imitation brand type of performance. However, the La Comedia cast is every bit just as talented, if not more so. I was highly impressed. It might just be the most talented cast of musicians ever assembled together on the La Comedia stage.
From the hip swiveling to the tiptoe freeze and everything in between, Kavan Hashemian, masters all of Elvis’s dance moves. He’s not only a visual replica of Elvis, but when Kavan sings, he brings Presley back to life. Yes, Elvis impersonators are common, but Kavan is a step above the competition. Don’t just take my word for it, he was named ‘The World’s Greatest Elvis,’ by the BBC. His vocals include an emotionally touching rendition of ‘Peace in the Valley’, ‘Long Tall Sally’, and ‘Hound Dog’ in which he breaks out all the moves and has the audience eating out of the palm of his hand.
Personally, if I had heard nothing else, I would have been satisfied with only ‘Folsom Prison Blues’ by Dan Grgic as Johnny Cash. His deep, low voice is perfection and whenever used I was imprisoned by its captivating sound. The Man in Black still manages to light up the stage with his talents while also singing ‘Sixteen Tons’, ‘Riders in the Sky’. ‘I Walk the Line,’ and more. Plus, he also delivers my favorite line in the show, which I won’t give away, but it’s from another of hit songs.
A scene stealer and a real ball of fire is Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis, whose personality creates lots of sparks amongst the quartet. A young up and comer, Jerry Lee Lewis oozes with confidence and is not intimidated by his counterparts. If piano playing was an Olympic sport then Rohrer would dominate as he uses his entire body and athletic prowess to pound on the ivory. The sounds he creates are more golden than all of Michael Phelps’ medals combined. To Rohrer’s credit, due to his constant activity, it’s hard to keep your eyes off of him, even with Dyanne on the stage (more on her soon). A true star is born with his show-closing performance of ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’ as Rohrer’s interaction with the audience and the amount of energy he exudes is legendary.
Of the quartet, Carl Perkins is least known but is no less talented. Though Elvis made it famous, it’s Carl Perkins who originated ‘Blue Suede Shoes.’ It’s a topic that causes a little heat between the two in the show. Though his personality is the least vibrant, Perkins via Snake Osburn, stands out with his guitar playing and gifted voice which soars in songs like ‘Matchbox’, Who Do You Love?’, and ‘See You Later Alligator’.
With such talented musicians on stage, it would be easy for Dyanne, Elvis’s date for the evening, to get lost in it all, but Bradley Farmer demands attention as the bombshell. More than just a pretty face, in a so form fitting dress, Farmer’s voice is as equally exquisite as anyone else’s and her movements while singing are mesmerizing. If I was deaf I would have still thoroughly enjoyed her singing, as her physicality spoke volumes. Farmer’s version of ‘Fever’ was aptly titled, because it rose my temperature and caused me to sweat. If the four men are The Million Dollar Quartet then she is The Million Dollar Soloist.
The man responsible for bringing them all together is Sam Phillips, played by the MVP of La Comedia, Chris Kramer who never gives anything but a top notch performance in whatever role he’s given. Like Tom Hanks, Kramer is great in everything, but I believe that this is one of his greatest characters. It’s a tough night for Phillips, while dealing with the contracts of his top stars. Kramer rides the wave of emotions effortlessly all while effectively reflecting his joys and sorrows upon the audience.
A special mention must also be made of Max Bezanson, who plays bass, and Ben Hill, the drummer, as they provide strong support to all the splendid music.
When you think the show is over, after the cast bows, don’t leave yet or you will miss the best part. It all gets turned up a notch while a full- fledged rock concert breaks out. You won’t want it to end, and will forget where you are while up and dancing at your seat.
I heard multiple people say, ‘This is the best show I’ve ever seen here,’ and it’s certainly in the running. The Million Dollar Quartet continues through October 29 and is not to be missed.
September 1 - October 29, 2016
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is Tony Award winning Broadway musical, inspired by the electrifying true story of the famed recording session that brought together rock 'n' roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins for the first and only time.
That legendary night is brought to life with a tale of broken promises, secrets, betrayal and celebrations featuring timeless hits including "Blue Suede Shoes," "Fever," "That's All Right," "Sixteen Tons," "Great Balls of Fire," "Walk the Line," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Who Do You Love?," "Matchbox," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Hound Dog" and more.
Mike Woody is a life long resident of Dayton, and has a passion for writing, which is good because he doesn't excel at much of anything else, except eating.
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