Million Dollar Quartet – Bord Gais Theatre – Review by Fran Winston
Bord Gais Energy Theatre, Grand Canal Dock, Dublin 2
20 Feb 2017 – 25 Feb 2017 – Tickets from €25 – €55
In December 1956, three of the world’s most popular singers and one up and coming feisty pianist gathered in a small studio in Tennessee for a jam session. The singers were of course Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, and that feisty piano player was none other than Jerry Lee Lewis. The studio was the legendary Sun Studios and the session was orchestrated by Sam Phillips, the man responsible for kick-starting the careers of all the aforementioned men as well as many other legendary stars. It’s the kind of bill a promoter could only dream of but unfortunately that was the first and last time these four icons of the music industry would ever play together.
This show is based on that night and gives audiences a chance to witness some of the energy and talent that existed in that room. Unfortunately all but one of those legends have passed away (Jerry Lee is still going strong and sprightly at 81 and still performs in concert) so it falls to a group of talented actors here to replicate the sound, looks and moves of these icons.
As is the way with a show like this, a lot rides on their similarities to the stars and some are obviously better than others. Ross William Wild definitely has Elvis the Pelvis moves and voice down but looks just too darn young to play the King. Robbie Durham is an excellent Johnny Cash and gives a standout performance but again he appears too youthful for the role. Ashley Carruthers is a force of nature as Jerry Lee Lewis but if anything he is the other end of the scale looking somewhat older than Lewis was at the time. Finally Matthew Wycliff tackles the role of Perkins and probably gets more leeway than the others as his image was not quite as iconic as theirs. Holding them all together is former teen icon Jason Donovan who takes on the role of Phillips and despite his pop star past doesn’t actually sing here. There’s also a fictitious Elvis girlfriend called Dyanne played by Katie Ray, whose whole part smacks of token female.
While this sounds like it would be a great story on paper, the fact is not a lot happens and there is a flimsy plot shoehorned in post interval. This is really the story of four guys who just loved to play and that’s what they do as they launch into some of the most famous songs of the era. However this often makes it feel more like a tribute show than a jukebox musical. That said, the songs have stood the test of time and are the kind of tunes that have you singing along and bopping in your seat. It’s peppered with a lot of exposition, so that we can learn more about the singers (did you know Carl Perkins actually write Blue Suede Shoes – ‘cos I didn’t!) and Phillips shares his success story. But at the end of the day this is about the music which to be fair is what musicians do when they get together. While it helps to be a fan of this music it is unlikely that anyone attending won’t be familiar with the songs and the performers have such energy that it’s impossible not to get swept up in it. One downside to this is that they make Donovan look very subdued and almost limp at times as he swaggers around his studio. You won’t learn much that you didn’t already know and don’t expect to be blown away by epic storytelling but as a snapshot of a moment that has gone down in the annals of pop culture this is good fun.