“There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin on” over at 3-D Theatricals, and they’re inviting everyone to “come on over’–and Baby, you can’t go wrong, because as part of their thrilling 2017-18 Season, this acclaimed Musical Theater Production Company in Southern California is currently offering the hit Tony-Award Winning musical “Million Dollar Quartet”!
Based on the legendary “Jam Session” that brought four Rock and Roll Giants: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, together in a local Memphis Tennessee recording studio back in that magic time of the mid 1950’s, these ground-breaking talents ostensibly stopped in just to have some fun doing what they all did best by making a little bit of music. What they created instead was a legend in the annals of music history! Taken from an original concept by Floyd Mutrux (who’s also credited with the original direction,) the book is by Mutrux and Colin Escott. The Director for this riveting new re-staging is David Lober while David Lamoureux (who also appears in the show) pulls double duty as Musical Director along with Michael Monroe Goodman (who also co-stars) as Associate Musical Director. Moreover, 3-D Theatrical’s mounting boasts the original costumes and set from Broadway–an authentic re-construction of the ‘Sun Records’ recording studio interior which accurately resembles the real place where it all happened (that, incidentally, his since been honored as a National Historic Landmark.)
“On December 4th, 1956, one man brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley to play together for the first and only time…that man was me!” proclaims “Sam Phillips” the man responsible for launching the careers of those rock idols, (on top of numerous others,) and whom many Pop-culture Historians refer to as “The Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll”.) “The Place was Sun Records, and that night we made Rock and Roll History!” Performed sans intermission, this unique—even phenomenal story is narrated by Phillips, as he hearkens back on the occasion those same Musical Aces came together at his “Sun Records” storefront studio making for a full-house any record-company ‘High Roller’ would feel flush to have up his sleeve! While this might not be the first ‘Juke-Box’ musical, it unquestionably rates among the very best, sporting a truly sensational score comprised of such classic rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, R&B and Country-Western standards as: “Blue Suede Shoes”, “Sixteen Tons”, “Who Do You Love?”, “I Walk The Line”, “Long Tall Sally”, “Fever”, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Hound Dog” (and many more!) “Boys, it’s comin’ up on Christmas,” Phillips beams; “–and we got lots to celebrate ‘cause it ain’t every day I got myself a By-God Million Dollar Quartet in my studio!” “Blue Suede Shoes” then kicks the action into high-gear (—a little ditty written by Perkins but made popular by Elvis, although all of the guys seems to have some kind of influence or experience with it.) Talk about a rousing opening–their collective performance of this old favorite virtually dares you not to absolutely love it! Subsequently, we find “Carl Perkins” and his band laying down tracks for an upcoming album. He’s been joined by another young ‘up and comer’ with something of a “wild child” attitude by the name of “Jerry Lee Lewis”–but oh can that boy play some mean piano! “What kind a ‘shine’ you been drinkin’?!” the perturbed Perkins asks him fast losing patience with this upstart “New Kid” on their Rock-A-Billy” block and his posturing at the piano after yet another take has been taken over by Lewis’s unrehearsed improvising. Obviously holding little regard for Lewis’ ability (not to mention the boy’s inflated opinion of himself) Perkins adds: “Somebody get a shovel and scoop that up!”
It’s not long until they’re joined by “The Man in Black’ himself , “Johnny Cash” who’s essentially there (as will eventually be revealed) to let Sam know that he intends to sign with “Columbia Records” once his contact at “Sun” is over, even as “Sam” thinks he’s there to triumphantly re-sign with his label. Cash on the other hand, feels “Sun” remains too small a label for the humongous talents it represents, and doesn’t like the slow speed at which they operate: “If they really want to stop the spread of Communism they ought to let Sun Records distribute it!” Cash complains. Also stopping in direct from a gig in Las Vegas where he was opening for comic “Shecky Greene” (like we said, this was a very long time ago!) is the ‘still on the way up’, “Elvis Presley”, who has brought a vivacious young lady he met there, named “Dyanne”, with him.
She’s a singer and songwriter herself and Elvis is eager she should meet his ‘Mentor’ Sam. Overall though, as Elvis reports, his gig in Vegas wasn’t everything he could have hoped for, entertaining mostly an older “Supper Club” crowd that didn’t exactly appreciate his style of music, causing him to vow “I will never play Vegas again!” At first, all the guys engage in a lot of ‘Good Ol’ Boy’ bravado–and indeed, Muttrux and Escott’s book is exceedingly witty, overflowing with often subtle puns that always hit their mark. However, it all leads to copious amounts of unabashedly incredible music and examples of masterful musicianship that’s all the more thrilling because it’s all LIVE—performed by the very “Actors” playing these roles. “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” is another sudden and astonishing highlight that occurs early on, that practically redefines and rockets the mere term ‘enjoyable’ into the stratosphere! This they quickly follow-up with a chorale version of the iconic hymn, “Down By The Riverside” (which too, is every bit as awe-inspiring as you might imagine!) In reality, seeing that the one school of music all the guys had in common was religious in nature, at the actual session, these types of songs were largely what they sang. “Let There Be Peace In The Valley” is another such spiritual themed inclusion which kind of sneaks up on you (as all the very best and unforgettable moments in this production do,) but one in which Cole’s “Elvis” especially impresses. The ending moments of the ‘dramatization’ portion of the show interjects a genuine recording of the four Superstars, made at this momentous session accompanied by a now illustrious photograph of them together at the piano (also taken at that time.) Post Curtain Call, they all return for a brief “Dream Concert”—the electrifying ‘should have been’ “Rock and Roll Show” for the collective fans of all of these men and their music. It also gives each of the four Actors an awesome occasion to encore their considerable talents in the roles they’re playing—with “Jerry Lee” appropriately capping it all off with a High-Octane rendition of “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On”!
Functioning as our guide through this event and the numerous reminiscences that encompass and inform its larger history, Zachary Ford is “Sam Phillips”, a former “Radio Man” turned Record Producer and the owner of “Sun Records”. Frequently addressing the audience directly and soliciting their responses, this allows Ford plenty of chances to show off his improvisational skills and to inter-act with the audience. (On opening night, Producer T.J. Dawson advised those in attendance that they, in effect, would ‘be’ an additional—and very active—‘character’ in the piece, and he’s exactly right!) Whether humorous or heart-wrenching, surrounded by singers in this non-singing role, Ford’s performance is volcanic, and its no exaggeration to assert that he is the heart and soul of the entire enterprise: “Here is the heart of Rock and Roll” he tells us in the end to peels of exuberant applause from all the First-Nighters in attendance. Swiveling his hips and gyrating his pelvis into the role of “The King” at a time when he was just on the precipice of becoming bona fide Rock and Roll Royalty, the singularly named “Cole” is himself remarkable and riveting as “Elvis Presley”. He knows this man, his mannerisms and his moves inside and out—and he proudly shows it every time he hits the spot-light! As “Sam” recalls, “Elvis” initially came to him wanting to sing more mainstream, (and for the time, less ‘controversial’) songs like Dean Martin’s “Memories Are Made Of These”–which, ironically, Cole roundly and soundly delights with in flash-back sequence. Nonetheless, as Phillips urged the young hopeful. “If you’re not doin’ something different, you’re not doing anything! Surprise the Hell out of me!” Thrillingly too, Elvis ‘Purists” out there definitely won’t be disappointed by Cole’s expert handling of ‘Ol’ Swivel-hips’ more prominent hits like “That’s All Right” (the very first song he, in fact, recorded for “Sun Records”) and of course, his seminal “signature” tune “Hound Dog”.
Meanwhile, John Countryman’s “Jerry Lee Lewis” is an out-and-out wonder at that piano keyboard warranting thunderous applause with each note and chord he plays! “88 Keys‘ll beat six-strings every time” Lewis crows to Perkins, and Countryman goes on to bestow a very strong case for this assertion with his positively masterful musicianship evident in “Wild Child”, then again with his contribution to “Brown Eyed Handsome Man”, then ultimately with Lee’s own signature songs “Great Balls Of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin On”. For all this, despite his swagger, he also shows us that “Jerry Lee” isn’t altogether that bad: “I studied two semesters at the Waxahachie Bible Institute,” he declares; “Studied to be a man of God!” In light of this admission we also learn that while he loves what he’s doing for “Sun Records”–and plans to become Filthy Rich and Outrageously Famous doing it—young “Jerry Lee” does harbor at least a few twinges of guilt about it: “It’s Temptation, Fornication, and Damnation in THAT order!” he lectures those assembled stepping for a minute away from the Piano stool and onto the Evangelical soap-box (Well, even then, Lewis was the cousin of soon-to-be World Renowned—and in some circles ‘Notorious’–TV Preacher “Jimmy Swaggart”, after all.)
Likewise, possessing both skills as an accomplished guitarist and vocalist, Michael Monroe Goodman similarly proves right up front that he’s also a force to dealt with on both counts as “Carl Perkins”, the man whose recording session serves as the backdrop for this, now near-mythic episode. Perkins, we’re told, was “the first ‘Triple Crown Winner’ in the history of the record business” having scored hits on the Pop, Rhythm and Blues and Country-Western charts (—a feat few other artists can claim even today!) Using his own considerable talents and stage presence, Goodman paints Perkins as a man slightly down career-wise and in desperate need of another ‘Number-One’ hit–but decidedly one not willing to surrender without one Hell of a fight. He throws this same energy into the service of “Matchbox” and “Who Do You Love”–each more than capably supported by his “band” comprised of featured musicians Omar D. Brancato on Bass, as his “Brother” “Jay Perkins”, and David Lamoureux as their Drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland (so euphemistically named after his penchant for using another particular word beginning with “F”.) In conjunction with Countryman’s work on the ivories, they pretty much are the on-stage band present throughout the duration of the proceedings.
David Elkins too, is a stupendous ‘sound alike’ for “Johnny Cash”, playing up the more charming side of “The Cash Man”, and he has an adept way of delivering—and scoring with–the many ‘word puns’ the script is loaded with. For instance, when those gathered talk of all the places they and their bands have been touring of late, “Johnny” simply replies, “I’ve been everywhere, man” (in a clever reference to one of his later uber-hits.) Elkins also can claim a deep, dynamic, baritone voice which he puts to excellent use straight away with his opening salvo, “Folsom Prison Blues”. Later, his take on “I Walk The Line” is also dramatic and striking as well, while the sublime intensity he gives to Cash’s emblematic morality-tale-through-song, “Ghost Riders In The Sky” ranks as an A-Plus parting shot in the show’s near-closing moments. Not to be overlooked either is the spirited medley of Perkins’ “My Babe” and Cash’s “Sixteen Tons” which Elkins carries out alongside Goodman which is sure to set many toes a-tappin’.
What’s more—and certainly not in any way the least of this celebrated bunch–is Adrienne Visnic who meticulously, and even powerfully, holds her own with her male counterparts as the only female in the cast, “Dyanne”. Her character is loosely based on a Vegas Showgirl named “Marilyn Evans” whom Elvis honestly did bring to the session that day, but the creators, fearing audiences might insinuate they were trying to suggest a non-existent relationship with Actress “Marilyn Monroe”, thought it best to change the character’s name and occupation for this show. More significantly, in making her an aspiring singer in her own right, affords several opportunities to incorporate a few songs from the era that ‘the guys’ wouldn’t be likely to have sung. Her “Audition” for Sam, a knock-out interpretation of Peggy Lee’s sassy-but-classy “Fever”, is appropriately sultry and sexy, and the next time she approaches the Center-Stage microphone, Visnic fervently ‘blows the roof off the joint’ with her stunning take on “I Hear You Knockin’ “–all this in addition to providing first-rate vocal backing to the larger “full cast” undertakings like “Peace In The Valley” and “Party”. What’s also notable about her portrayal here is how “Dyanne” seems to be something of a free-spirit reminiscent of “Ann Margaret” (complete with auburn hair) –the woman, (as the legends have it,) whom Elvis was utterly taken with and in whom they add, he’d met his ultimate match. Perceived in this light, her performance isn’t just extremely entertaining (which it is) it’s also downright brilliant!
“These are the men that changed the music industry forever,” Producer Dawson also observed on opening night, and here too, he couldn’t be more correct—they weren’t just inventing a bold new kind of music, they were inventing a whole new era to go with it! After Previewing on Friday, February 9th, “Million Dollar Quartet” officially opened on Saturday, February 10th, 2018, where it is slated to play through February 18th , 2018 at “The Redondo Beach Performing Arts Center” located at 1935 E. Manhattan Blvd., in Redondo Beach, CA. Showtimes for this engagement are Friday evening, February 16th at 8:00 PM; Saturday, February 17th at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM with a Sunday Matinee on February 18th at 2:00 PM. Afterwards, the show transfers to “The Cerritos Center For The Performing Arts” located at 12700 Center Court Drive, in Cerritos, CA, where it will play for an additional nine performances starting Friday, February 23rd, 2018 . Showtimes are Fridays at 8:00 PM, Saturdays at 2:00 PM and 8:00 PM, with Sunday Matinees at 2:00 PM. There will also be an additional Thursday performance on March 1st at 7:30 PM. Tickets for both engagements may be obtained by phone via “3-D Theatricals Remote Box Office” at: 714 589-2770, Ext. 1, Monday through Friday, between the hours of 11:00 AM – 5:00 PM; Saturdays 12:00 noon – 4:00 PM. (On show dates, the “3DT Box Office” at each theater opens two hours prior to performances.) So too, tickets for the Cerritos engagement may also be ordered directly from the “Cerritos Theatre Box Office” by calling (562) 916-8500, Tuesdays – Fridays between the hours of 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM; and 12:00 noon – 4:00 PM on Saturdays.(The Box Office at “The Cerritos Theatre For The Performing Arts” opens two hours prior to weekday and Saturday performances; one hour prior to Sunday performances.) For Online Ticketing for both locations checkout: http://www.3dtshows.org (or for the Cerritos engagement http://www.Cerritoscenter.com .) Group and Student discounts are available for both engagements, with special “Rush” tickets available one hour prior to “select performances”.
Production Stills By “Caught in the Moment Photography” (CaughtintheMoment.com) Courtesy Of Michael Sterling & Associates (www.msapr.net ) and “3-D Theatricals”; Special Thanks To Michael Sterling, T.J. Dawson, Gretchen Dawson, David Lober, David Lamoureux, Michael Monroe Goodman–And To The Cast And Crew Of “3-D Theatricals” 2018 Production Of “Million Dollar Quartet” For Making This Story Possible.