Friday, 14 October 2011

Million Dollar Quartet Review

What the Million Dollar Quartet posters say about the show having a ‘soundtrack to die for’ is true. This is the best thing about the latest in a long line of ‘jukebox’ musicals, which rely on past hits churned out by tribute musicians. Million Dollar Quartet is based on a real event in winter 1956, at Sun Records, the only time that Sam Phillips’ rock ‘n’ roll stars, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis played together.

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The success of a jukebox musical, especially one with little plot to speak of, relies on the talent of the actors. Thankfully, here the cast has it in spades. All four of the quartet sing rock ‘n’ roll classics finely, including ‘I Walk the Line’, ‘Brown Eyed Handsome Man’, ‘Matchbox’, and two sweeter, more tranquil numbers, the gospel song ‘Down by the Riverside’ and ‘Peace in the Valley’. Francesca Jackson plays Dyanne, the slinky, sassy girlfriend of Elvis, based on the real girlfriend, Marylin Evans, who was present at the recording. Her songs, ‘I Hear You Knocking’ and ‘Fever’ are both sexy and powerful, providing a nice contrast to the boys’ numbers. But Ben Goddard, as a very young Jerry Lee Lewis, steals the show, a fun but annoying bundle of youthful, energetic self-confidence. He displays the future of Sun Records, and Sam Phillips’ latest investment, as Phillips’ older stars take new record deals with RCA and Columbia.

The drama just about holds attention, though it is at times stretched thinly. The tension and poignancy of each artist’s story is touched upon, though in none is its full potential realised. We would have liked to have seen more of Phillips’ enigma, Cash’s internal tussle between rock and gospel, Perkins’ poor Tennessee roots, and Elvis’ regret at losing his own roots to global fame. The drama is at its strongest in the freeze-frame asides which pitch back to pivotal incidents in Elvis’ and Perkins’ rise to fame. These work so well it is surprising they are not given greater prominence.

However, what the show lacks in depth of story, it makes up for in great rock ‘n’ roll music, which all fans of the genre will love, whether or not you remember the real event. The talented cast presents a fine tribute to four rock ‘n’ roll legends, and a historic day in the genre’s calendar. The music still takes you back to the ‘50s, whether or not you lived them.