MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET worth every penny at Great Lakes Theater

A star-studded jam session like no other was recorded on December 4, 1956 at the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee. Lucky for us, audience members can now relive the magic of this night of music (presented through Great Lakes Theater) as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and “The King” Elvis Presley visit the Hanna Theatre stage at Playhouse Square in the Tony Award-winning musical MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET.

From left - Sam Phillips (James Ludwig) discusses his plans for Johnny Cash (Sky Seals)
From left – Sam Phillips (James Ludwig) discusses his plans for Johnny Cash (Sky Seals) – Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Sam Phillips, “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,” plays host to his “boys” at Sun Studios, and this is where he brings out their raw talent. Sam narrates the history while the tunes flow and the stories shine.

Sam (played by James Ludwig) has a knack for finding a diamond in the rough. The character is driven, focused, and bent on making his small record label just as successful as the “big” companies like RCA and Columbia. Although it’s a non-singing role, Ludwig holds the stage just as well as the other roles, and even breaks through with a mean harmonica at the end. He is an effective ring leader, and a great center for the whirlwind of personalities that surround him. The character is successful and likeable.

Jerry Lee (actor, Gabe Aronson) shows some moves as Dyanne (Kristen Beth Williams) and Elvis (Sean Michael Buckley) rock out
Jerry Lee (Gabe Aronson) shows some moves as Dyanne (Kristen Beth Williams) and Elvis (Sean Michael Buckley) rock out – Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Jerry Lee Lewis is played by Gabe Aronson, and his performance is like a fireworks display exploding into the sky. Along with pounding out the famous Lewis hits like “Great Balls of Fire,” it is no-holds-barred at the piano, as his technique has him hammering through the songs with his feet, his fists and his fearlessness. His performance is highly energetic and entertaining, and Aronson brings both talent and mischief to the role of a still unknown star-in-the-making.

Carl (actor, James Barry) catches some air; from left(Gabe Aronson, Kristen Beth Williams, Sky Seals, Dave Sonneborn and Sean Michael Buckley
Carl (James Barry) catches some air; from left – Gabe Aronson, Kristen Beth Williams, Sky Seals, Dave Sonneborn and Sean Michael Buckley – Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Carl Perkins is played by James Barry, whose fingers fly across his guitar with ease. Barry does a wonderful job of playing Perkins’ skill against his desire for more than Sun Studios can give. Feeling overshadowed by Elvis, Perkins wants nothing more than for Phillips to get him “one more hit.” Barry plays a subtle back-and forth between gratitude and conflict, and gives Perkins a broiling simmer. Did you know “Blue Suede Shoes” is a Carl Perkins song? Try telling that to Elvis fans. Bitter = party of Perkins.

Johnny Cash (Sky Seals)
Johnny Cash (Sky Seals) – Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Johnny Cash is played by Sky Seals, who does justice to the Man in Black. His presence is calm yet edgy, his voice bold and gravelly. Seals’ performance is solid, and he presents Johnny Cash (who sold more than 90 million records worldwide) as a knowledgeable man who’s seen a few things in his life, and will go on to see a few more.

Elvis (Sean Michael Buckley) contemplates his future as the group (Gabe Aronson, Kristen Beth Williams, Dave Sonneborn, James Barry, Eric Scott Anthony and James Ludwig) look on
Elvis (Sean Michael Buckley) contemplates his future as the group (Gabe Aronson, Kristen Beth Williams, Dave Sonneborn, James Barry, Eric Scott Anthony and James Ludwig) look on – Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Elvis Presley is played by Sean Michael Buckley, who has the task of filling some pretty big Blue Suede Shoes. Although lacking the shine of a “cultural icon,” Buckley does a good job of capturing the young sparkle of a performer who is on his way to greatness. In this production, Elvis has just left Sun Records, as his contract was sold to RCA by Sam Phillips. Elvis, however, longs for the days of a smaller studio with people he trusts. Buckley succeeds in presenting a character who’s longing for the past while singing his way to the future.

From right - Dyanne (Kristen Beth Williams) is giving us fever as Brother Jay (Eric Scott Anthony) provides support
From right – Dyanne (Kristen Beth Williams) is giving us fever as Brother Jay (Eric Scott Anthony) provides support – Photo by Roger Mastroianni

Backed up by Brother Jay (Eric Scott Anthony) on the bass and Fluke (Dave Sonneborn) on the drums, the guys are also joined by singer (and Elvis’ date) Dyanne (Kristen Beth Williams) in the studio. As a note, YES: all actors on the stage play their own instruments!

The songs in the show are all golden in their own ways, and the set list is as follows:
Blue Suede Shoes
Real Wild Child
Matchbox
Who Do You Love?
Folsom Prison Blues
Fever
Memories Are Made of This
That’s All Right
Brown Eyed Handsome Man
Down by the Riverside
Sixteen Tons
My Babe
Long Tall Sally
Peace in the Valley
I Walk the Line
I Hear You Knocking
Party
Great Balls of Fire
Down by the Riverside (Reprise)
Hound Dog
Ghost Riders
See You Later Alligator
Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On

From left - Gabe Aronson, Kristen Beth Williams, Sean Michael Buckley, James Barry, Sky Seals, Dave Sonneborn and Eric Scott Anthony
From left – Gabe Aronson, Kristen Beth Williams, Sean Michael Buckley, James Barry, Sky Seals, Dave Sonneborn and Eric Scott Anthony – Photo by Roger Mastroianni

The production is directed by Hunter Foster. The design team (all new to Great Lakes Theater) includes Kirk Bookman (Lighting Design), Bart Fasbender (Sound Design), Adam Koch (Scenic Design), and Lauren T. Roark (Costume Design). The production is well stage managed by Lucas Clark and Sarah Kelso, with assistant stage management by Amy Essick.

MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET runs from now through May 26, 2019 at the Hanna Theatre in Playhouse Square. Tickets are $15-$89 and can be purchased by visiting www.greatlakestheater.org or by calling 216-241-6000.

From left - The quartet (James Barry, Gabe Aronson, Sean Michael Buckley and Sky Seals)
From left – The quartet (James Barry, Gabe Aronson, Sean Michael Buckley and Sky Seals) – Photo by Roger Mastroianni

 

 

 

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