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by Ellen Sterling
The party has already started in celebration of Million Dollar Quartet, the latest Broadway import to open in a permanent home in Las Vegas. And, I must note that it seems it'll be a party well worth attending.
The cast, playwright, director, musical director and assorted PR people and press gathered one day last week for what was billed as a "sneak peek" at the show. This is the story of a mostly-by-coincidence recording session on December 4, 1956 at http://www.Sun Studio in Memphis. On that day, Carl Perkins was recording with Jerry Lee Lewis on keyboards. Sam Phillips, owner of Sun, was engineering the recording. In short order, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley came into the studio and, all of a sudden, the very first "supergroup" was singing together. Phillips recorded the session and it went down in rock 'n' roll history.
Almost 40 years later, British rock'n'roll fan Colin Escott wrote a book about that era at Sun called Good Rockin' Tonight: Sun Records and the Birth of Rock 'N' Roll. He talked about the Million Dollar Quartet in a sidebar and, from that, the show was born. Escott co-wrote the book for the show.
The show opened in Florida in 2006 and in Everett, WA in 2008. The Chicago production, still running, opened in 2008 also. It played on Broadway for 489 performances and played for almost a year in the West End. The show's national tour began in 2011 and, last year, one of its stops was the terrific Smith Center for the Performing Arts in Las Vegas. Now, it will open a residency at Harrahs in Las Vegas on February 4.
Director Eric Schaeffer, musical director Chuck Mead and Escott were there, along with the full cast.
Tyler Hunter is Elvis; Martin Kaye is Jerry Lee Lewis, Benjamin D. Hale is Johnny Cash, Robert Britton Lyons is Carl Perkins. Musicians include Mikey Hachey as Jay Perkins (Carl's brother) on bass and Jim Belk as Fluke, the drummer. Of course, overseeing the session is Marc D. Donovan as Sam Phillips. The only fictional character is called Dyanne. Played by Felice Garcia, she is the girlfriend that Elvis brought with him that day.
It is a cast filled with great talent and experience. As Schaeffer explained, "It wasn't easy to cast the show. We didn't use impersonators. We needed people who could act, play instruments and sing like their characters."
Lyons played Carl Perkins in every production of the show - Chicago, Broadway, London, Off-Broadway, the national tour. Tyler Hunter player Elvis in Legends in Concert in Atlantic City and Hawaii. Englishman Martin Kay began as Jerry Lee in the national tour of MDQ. Mark Donovan has appeared in regional theater, on TV in such shows as Boardwalk Empire, Blue Bloods, All My Children and Zero Hour. He's also done more than 40 TV and radio commercials. Drummer Jim Belk has worked for years in Las Vegas. He's worked with a range of big names - Rickles, Charo, Wayne Newton, among them - and is musical director for Michael Grimm. Mikey Hachy first met Elvis professionally as a member of the orchestra in Cirque du Soleil's Viva Elvis.
So, having been given this information when we entered the rehearsal hall, it was time for some music....and a terrific time it was!
The cast sang several numbers, among them were Folsom Prison Blues, Blue Suede Shoes and - for some reason, since it was a hit for Bill Haley and the Comets, not for anyone on Sun - the fun song, See Ya Later, Alligator.
Watching and listening, no one in the room stood still. The music was brilliantly performed and, thus, infectious. Even those in the audience too young to remember the original material done by the original performers were, judging by the foot-tapping, really into it.
In all, based on its history and this "sneak peek," Million Dollar Quartet will be a major crowd-pleaser.
For tickets/information, please visit http://www.harrahslasvegas.com/shows/million-dollar-quartet.html#.UQb-FujwNuY or call 702-777-7776.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Million Dollar Quartet
The cast of Million Dollar Quartet in Las Vegas: from left: Mikey Hachey, Martin Kaye, Robert Britton Lyons, Felice Garcia, Jim Belk, Tyler Hunter, Benjamin D. Hale, Marc D. Donavan