Whole lotta shakin’ goin’ on as ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ returns
May 8, 2012
By Warren Kagarise
Jukebox musical revives classic rock ‘n’ roll
“Million Dollar Quartet” is a multimillion-dollar phenomenon.
The rock ‘n’ roll musical about the “million dollar quartet” — Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis — collaborating for one night at the storefront Sun Records studio led to successful runs at Village Theatre in Issaquah and Everett, and then in Chicago, New York City and London.
The inaugural national tour of “Million Dollar Quartet” reaches the Paramount Theatre in Seattle on May 15 — a homecoming of sorts for a musical shaped a half-dozen years ago at Village Theatre.
The musical is based on a seminal jam session at the Sun Records studio in December 1956.
In the touring production, Christopher Ryan Grant plays rock ‘n’ roll impresario Sam Phillips, the Memphis mogul and Sun Records founder responsible for the “million dollar quartet.”
“You listen to these songs today and they seem simple, but maybe that’s part of the appeal,” Grant said in a phone interview from a stop in Costa Mesa, Calif. “There’s not a whole lot of messy production behind them that you get these days with synthesizers and canned beats.”
The jukebox musical includes the classics “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” and more.
“I told my agent when I got out of grad school, ‘Don’t send me out for musicals. I don’t want to do musicals. I studied classical theater,’” Grant said. “But as far as musicals go, this is more like a rock show with a story than it is like a jazz-handsy sort of musical. It’s not ‘Mamma Mia!’ — I will say that.”
Wanna rock ‘n’ roll all night
Martin Kaye is Lewis in the touring production. The piano-playing Briton and the legendary fireball from Louisiana possess the same electric energy.
“When he’s onstage, he’s so wildly animated and totally involved in the music he’s playing, that’s pretty much me,” Kaye said. “When I play, I get so into it I kind of forget anything else that’s going on around me, and I sing and I jump around and I dance around. The energy inside me just completely takes over.”
If you go
‘Million Dollar Quartet’
On the Web
In 2011, The Issaquah Press retraced the journeys of Tony Award-winning musicals ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ and ‘Next to Normal’ from Village Theatre to Broadway. Read the article at http://bit.ly/fjlDEn.
The same energy crackles between the audience and the performers singing and playing instruments onstage.
“The crowd starts out pumped up,” said Cody Slaughter, Presley in the touring production. “The curtain comes up and people are screaming.”
The creative team at Village Theatre recognized the potential in “Million Dollar Quartet” early. The show appeared in threadbare form in the 2006 Festival of New Musicals.
“As soon as we had it in our festival, and probably even before, we were talking to a commercial producer that was also involved,” Village Theatre Executive Producer Robb Hunt said. “We knew that they had people that were interested in taking it further.”
Old time rock ‘n’ roll
Village Theatre producers extended the “Million Dollar Quartet” run to 10 weeks to meet demand. Most cast members from the Village Theatre production later reprised the roles on Broadway.
Local interest in the show remains high. Broadway Across America sold about $80,000 in “Million Dollar Quartet” tickets to Village Theatre audience members for the Seattle stop.
“Million Dollar Quartet” garnered a nomination for the Tony Award for Best Musical and a statuette for the piano-pounding Lewis in the Issaquah and New York productions, actor and musician Levi Kreis.
The accolades came months after another Village Theatre-nurtured musical, “Next to Normal,” earned Tonys and the Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
Throughout 2010, “Million Dollar Quartet” and “Next to Normal” played at Broadway theaters less than a mile apart. The dual Issaquah exports represented a milestone for Village Theatre.
Hunt said “Million Dollar Quartet” appealed to audiences by using the historic moment at the Sun Records Studio as a launch pad and then adding layers.
“There isn’t one magic formula. It’s more like a combination of things. There’s a newness that’s needed and, at the same time, something you can latch onto musically that you follow and hits you emotionally in some way,” he said. “All of those elements go together.”
‘Million Dollar Quartet’ looped around the United States — and across the Atlantic Ocean — since Village Theatre introduced the concept to audiences.
The proto-musical ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ receives a stripped-down reading at the Village Theatre Festival of New Musicals, a showcase for original works.
The musical premieres at the then-Seaside Music Theater in Daytona Beach, Fla.
‘Million Dollar Quartet’ debuts on the Village Theatre Mainstage and sets a sales record. The musical grosses $1.1 million and sells about 30,600 tickets.
The musical opens in Chicago and later transfers from the Goodman Theatre to the Apollo Theater. The show continues a successful run in the Windy City.
‘Million Dollar Quartet’ opens on Broadway at the Nederlander Theatre and runs for 489 performances and 34 previews.
Actor Levi Kreis, Jerry Lee Lewis in the Village Theatre and Broadway productions, wins a Tony Award for the role.
‘Million Dollar Quartet’ opens in London to much buzz, as the New York and Chicago productions continue.
In New York, ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ moves to the Off Broadway New World Stages.
The inaugural national tour of ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ starts in Cleveland.
The inaugural national tour of ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ reaches the Paramount Theatre in Seattle.
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.