There’s a whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on at the Schuster Center as the outstanding national tour of “Million Dollar Quartet,” nominated for the 2010 Tony Award for Best Musical and based on a true event, lets loose with feel-good exuberance courtesy of the Victoria Theatre Association’s Premier Health Broadway Series.
A jukebox musical written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux unabashedly concerned with tone and era instead of plot or storyline, “Million Dollar Quartet” captures a glimpse of rock and roll history in 100 breezy minutes under Eric Schaeffer’s crisp direction. On Dec. 4, 1956 in Memphis, Tennessee, Sun Records owner Sam Phillips concocted a jam session featuring four titans he discovered: Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley. This immensely talented and unique quartet, whose genuine love of music permeated within their souls, come together at the dawn of their careers, which gives the material an immediately endearing edge beyond the cavalcade of hits. Humorous clashes (primarily instigated by the outspoken Lewis) and interesting tidbits (televangelist Jimmy Swaggart is Lewis’ cousin; Perkins resented Presley for snatching “Blue Suede Shoes,” a hit he wrote and recorded first) keep the action engaging when the fantastic music subsides, but a deeper investigation into the lives and personalities of each artist, including Phillips, would have added considerable substance. Granted, Cash and Perkins provide a relatively juicy slice of drama when revealing their decision to move on from Sun Records, but stakes should have been raised elsewhere. Also, the presence of a random girlfriend for Presley, intended to boost the show’s sex appeal, is particularly superfluous and underwritten.
Nonetheless, this rip-roaring experience thrives on its thoroughly energetic and entertaining foursome who impressively play their own instruments while marvelously embodying the titular legends. Phenomenal pianist John Countryman is a funny firecracker as Lewis, a fiery Southerner longing to write his first hit. Countryman brings incredible passion to “Real Wild Child” and “Great Balls of Fire.” The suave Tyler K. Hunter effortlessly channels the hip-swiveling Presley in “That’s All Right” and “Hound Dog,” but wonderful sensitivity also abounds as he terrifically leads “Memories Are Made of This” and “Peace in the Valley.” As the plain-spoken Perkins, H. Bradley Waters provides satisfying versions of “Who Do You Love?” and “See You Later Alligator.” Scott Moreau is also perfectly cast as the understated Cash, pleasing audiences with toe-tapping renditions of “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Sixteen Tons” and “I Walk the Line.” Vince Nappo brings folksy joy to his portrayal of Phillips, the show’s narrator. As Presley’s current flame Dyanne, Kelly Lamont, who originated the role, seductively captivates in “Fever.” Bass player Corey Kaiser and drummer Patrick Morrow provide first-rate accompaniment.
“Million Dollar Quartet” only scratches the surface of Cash, Lewis, Perkins, Phillips and Presley’s greatness, but it’s an undeniable crowd pleaser just as winning on tour as it was on Broadway.
“Million Dollar Quartet” continues through June 22 at the Schuster Center, Second and Main Streets, Dayton. Performances are today and Friday at 8 p.m., Saturday at 2 and 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 and 7:30 p.m. The production is performed in 100 minutes without intermission. Tickets are $40-$96. For tickets or more information, call Ticket Center Stage at (937) 228-3630 or visit www.ticketcenterstage.com.