When it was actually happening, it might have been mistaken for an earthquake — and certainly the aftershocks are still alive, if the rousing international success of the musical Million Dollar Quartet is any indication. The play captures an iconic night in rock-and-roll history — December 4, 1956 — when producer Sam Phillips shepherded four fiery talents into his small Memphis studio for a dream-team jam session.
Established piano pounder Jerry Lee Lewis, “Blue Suede Shoes” originator Carl Perkins, bad boy Johnny Cash, and young-lion-in-his-prime Elvis Presley raised the roof and buckled the floor, recording new recordings of classic crossover hits including “Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Hound Dog,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and others.
Tempers flared along with the talent, egos clashed, and masterpieces were made. “There was mostly friendly competition between these guys, though from time to time issues boiled up between them. The show does a great job of highlighting some of those disagreements,” director James Moye tells Bold Life.
Along with the high-wattage hits, the session was known for touching renditions of gospel songs that all four country boys had been raised with. “We learn of the rise of these rock and rollers through their music, and how their music was shaping the industry and culture,” says Moye.
Segued together, these elements makes for one scintillating piece of theater. (To add a little estrogen to the drama, the script even includes a fictional girlfriend for Elvis, Dyanne Evans.) Million Dollar Quartet opened in late April and continues its rocking reign on the Flat Rock Playhouse Clyde and Nina Allen MainStage through May 21. The local production stars Nat Zegree as Jerry Lee, Jeremy Sevelovitz as Carl, Christopher Fordinal as Elvis, Johnny Kinnaird as Johnny, and Ryah Nixon as Dyanne.
“The audition process for this show is very challenging, as you have to find actors who can sing, act, play their instruments, and [physically] resemble these icons of rock and roll,” Moye points out. “We were very fortunate to have put together a cast that surpasses all that I could’ve hoped. This process was a bit traditional auditioning, and a bit recruiting folks we knew who could pull it off. There aren’t many shows that can showcase actors as musicians like this one.”
Million Dollar Quartet at Flat Rock Playhouse, Wednesdays and Thursdays at 7:30pm, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, matinees Wednesday, Thursday, Saturdays, and Sundays at 2pm. Tickets are $15-$40. 828-693-0731, 866-732-8008, www.flatrockplayhouse.org.