(Disclaimer – I was provided two complimentary tickets to Million Dollar Quartet by Des Moines Performing Arts)
Do you have a moment in history that you wish you could travel back in time to witness? The signing of the Declaration of Independence, man walking on the moon, and Woodstock 1969 are a couple of mine. Last night, I added another. I wish I could travel back to Tuesday, December 4, 1956 in Memphis, Tennessee. That way, I could see one of the greatest moments in music history that nobody saw. That was the night that Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley jammed together at the historic Sun Record Studios in what would go down in history as the only performance of the “Million Dollar Quartet.”
In the stage production of Million Dollar Quartet, many liberties are taken for the sake of making the show more accessible to a wider base of fans. The participants play their big hits when the only major hits actually played that night were “Love Me Tender” and “Don’t Be Cruel.” There’s also a moment when Sun Records founder Sam Phillips takes the iconic photograph of the quartet, when actually, Phillips called a local newspaper reporter who brought a photographer to take the photo.
Historical accuracy aside, Million Dollar Quartet is just about the most fun you could have at a Broadway show. The show has no orchestra pit, rather all of the music is made on stage by the actors/musicians. Speaking of the actors, these guys are fantastic musicians. James Barry plays Carl Perkins and proves himself to be a fantastic guitar player. Ben Goddard had me amazed as Jerry Lee Lewis and his frantic style of piano playing. David Elkins shocked the crowd as a dead-on Johnny Cash in both voice and performance. Then there’s Cody Slaughter who sounded, performed, and LOOKS just like Elvis Presley. All of the actors had the moves down cold for their famous subjects. I thought Jerry Lee seemed a little over caffeinated, but I don’t know much about his early career and he IS portrayed drinking multiple bottles of RC Cola throughout the show.
Also in the show is the often forgotten 5th member of the “quartet,” Kelly Lamont who plays “Dyanne,” Elvis’ girlfriend. Dyanne wasn’t the real name of the woman that accompanied Elvis that night, rather it was Marilyn Evans. I’m not sure why she was renamed for the show. Dyanne sings on a few of the songs during the jam session, but since Marilyn Evans was actually a dancer, it remains to be seen if she ever sang during the actual session.
The main show is definitely interesting and keeps your toes tapping, but it’s the encore that will get the entire crowd out of their seats. In a full concert atmosphere, each character runs through abbreviated versions of some of their biggest hits. It’s a great moment in the show and one definitely worth looking forward to experiencing. As I stood, clapped, and sang along, it made me wish I had that time machine, not just to see this historic moment in person, but also to see each of these performers in their prime in concert. My parents and grandparents would tell me that we don’t realize how good we have it these days. In some ways, they didn’t realize how good THEY had it.
Million Dollar Quartet runs through Sunday at the Des Moines Civic Center, part of the Des Moines Performing Arts.