Utah audiences have an opportunity to learn a little bit of music history while enjoying a superb evening of entertainment as four iconic performers are celebrated in one show.
The national touring production of "Million Dollar Quartet" opened Tuesday at the Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City. The show delivers a heartfelt salute to the four music legends of the "Million Dollar Quartet" -- Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.
The show was inspired by the famous Dec. 4, 1956, impromptu recording session at the Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tenn. Its score features an wide array of hits from rock, gospel, R&B and country. Part Broadway show, part concert, the production incorporates songs that were some of the biggest hits of the four men's respective careers, including "Blue Suede Shoes," Sixteen Tons," "Who Do You Love?," "Great Balls of Fire," "Matchbox," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Hound Dog" and "See You Later, Alligator."
The four were particularly effective with their tight vocals on the tender "Down by the Riverside," and equally impressive on the "Brown-Eyed Handsome Man" by Chuck Berry, which really got the show hopping.
All four were not only skilled actors, but highly accomplished musicians as well and played their own instruments. Via instrumentation, miking and amplification, they kept a very "Sun Studio" sound to the music. A special nod goes to the bassist and drummer who backed the foursome with amazing style.
The performers played their parts effectively, their interpretations capturing the essence of the character rather than being a cartoonish caricature. Derek Keeling delivered a sexy Johnny Cash and easily handled the lower vocal range of the famed Man in Black. Cody Slaughter, as the King of Rock 'n' Roll, definitely had the moves of Elvis.
Lee Ferris, as the underappreciated Carl Perkins, also proved he knew his way around an electric guitar and delivered a sympathetic portrayal of a songwriter who felt Elvis had stolen this limelight. Perkins is famous for writing and recording the single "Blue Suede Shoes," which sold 1.2 million copies. Elvis later recorded a hit version of the song and is often mistakenly credited with its success.
Cash, Presley and Perkins were established stars at the time of the legendary recording session, but Lewis was still trying to make a name for himself.
Martin Kaye -- an actor, singer and piano man from Manchester, England -- easily steals the show as the outrageous and cocky Lewis on the cusp of becoming a superstar. Kaye's mad piano skills, body contortions, blond maniacal curls and comic timing clearly pleased the crowd, as the thunderous applause demonstrated when he emerged at the end of the show in a glittering red jacket to perform an electrifying "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."
You wouldn't know listening to Kaye channel Lewis that he is British, but both he and Ferris also impressed with their respective accents, which were letter-perfect and region-specific to Louisiana and Tennessee.
The story also stayed very close to the truth of what Sam Phillips, the Father of Rock 'n' Roll, was all about. Phillips' influence cannot be overstated in the development of modern music; the part was played convincingly by Christopher Ryan Grant, who managed to be tough and tender at the same time.
What plot there is in "Million Dollar Quartet" focuses mainly on Phillips as a true pioneer, making it up and making it gold as he went along. He had the vision to combine black blues and white hillbilly music into something new and timeless.
He had a golden ear and could see beyond the rough edges of the country boys who came to his converted auto shop to make records.
They still sound like gold to this day.