And yet, on December 4, 1956, at Sun Records in Memphis, it happened, and they jammed on record together for the first and only time. Perkins, riding the success of “Blue Suede Shoes,” was in with his band to cut some new material. Cash, a fellow Sun artist and a fan of Perkins, dropped by to listen. Sun’s owner, Sam Philips (“The Father of Rock and Roll”), added Lewis to Perkins’ session in search of a more rockabilly sound. Presley, with a girlfriend in tow, stopped by to say hello. And then, magic happened.
Before they were famous, it wasn’t unusual for several of these guys to play together at rent parties, in after-hours joints—but this was the only time any such summit was preserved for history.
Million Dollar Quartet, the 2010 Broadway musical that dramatizes this meeting, will rock the Benjamin and Marian Schuster Performing Arts Center starting tonight and running June 17 – 22 as part of Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series. A litany of classic hits including “Hound Dog,” “I Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Fever,” and many more are performed with electric gusto by an unbelievably talented cast of actor/musicians playing their own instruments.
The tour cast includes H. Bradley Waters as Carl Perkins, John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis (a role that won Levi Kreis a Tony Award), Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash, and Tyler K. Hunter as Elvis Presley.
Hunter, a country singer who began doing Elvis tribute shows in his youth, has been part of the M$Q tour for a year and a half.
“I’ve never done any acting before,” he said, “or anything like that. I do country music, but they called and asked if I wanted to audition, so I took a bus to New York.”
“It’s a blast,” he said of the show’s process. “When we come into rehearsals, our musical director—Eric Schaeffer, a very talented, smart guy who works the ‘theatre’ side of things—tells us to pick up our instruments and start jamming, like a regular band. Then we throw in the dialogue, and there it is. We’re a band. These guys become like your family, like best friends. It’s a really tight bond.”
When the show premiered on Broadway in 2010, New York Magazine called it “a dazzling raucous spectacle that sounds like a million bucks,” but Hunter downplays that, painting a down-home portrait of four scrappy young fellas as regular joes on the cusp of igniting the world.
“You get an idea of who these guys are and where they come from, ‘50s Memphis. These are buddies just coming in and hanging—real guys, you know? No different from you or me or anybody else.”
He uses that approach to inform his portrayal of Elvis, going for an evocation as opposed to an impersonation. Hunter, who does not resemble Elvis offstage, pulls a transformation onstage and presents a stunning take that evokes The King’s presence.
“A wig, some makeup…I dunno,” he said casually. “There are a few guys out there whoreally look like Elvis, but no one’s going to sound exactly like him. I try to do just enough so if you’re sitting back in your seat and catch a glimpse of me, there’s a split second where you think, ‘Wow, that’s Elvis.’ That’s all it takes, that split second. Then they’re on board with you even if you go somewhere they don’t completely expect.”
“You know, we think about Elvis, probably one of the most famous people since Jesus Christ, and we forget that he was a real person. These were all real people. They had their feelings hurt, they laughed, they did all the same things as us—they just had really cool jobs. When I’m up there, I try to capture that aspect. At this point, he’s 21 years old. He’s a kid. You remember how you were at 21? That’s what I try to capture.”
In Million Dollar Quartet, Hunter-as-Elvis performs songs like “Long Tall Sally” and “Peace in the Valley,” but Hunter dreams of singing his own material someday.
“I’ll always be an Elvis fan, but I would love to do my own thing. I’ve been writing songs for a little while now, and country music is what I grew up on. It comes naturally when I sing. I’m from Nebraska and kind of a redneck, and it’s just who I am. We’ve got some good people coming together to hopefully make a great album of original country music.”
But for now, he knows, The King still reigns.
“I definitely am very grateful and fortunate with the job I have, and the fantastic people I work with. We’re playing live music, which is a blast, and we get to pick up our instruments and play every single day. I really enjoy it, especially the finale. That’s when we get to rock out, just let it all hang out for ten or so minutes.”
Talented musicians jamming together—that’s what Million Dollar Quartet is all about.
“It’s got that raw, bluesy feeling that comes with rockabilly. You get that experience of being a fly on the wall and seeing this really cool moment. It’s not your typical Broadway show. We’re recreating a one-time thing with real people who were just buddies hanging out.”
Performances run from Tuesday, June 17 to Sunday, June 22. Group sales are underway for groups of 20 or more. Groups may call Betty Gould at 937/228-7591 ext. 3074. Tickets start at $25 and are on sale now at Ticket Center Stage, located in the Wintergarden of the Schuster Center, by phone 937-228-3630, toll-free at 888-228-3630 or online at www.ticketcenterstage.com. For information on the production, visitwww.MillionDollarQuartetLive.com