Rant ‘N’ Roll: Million Dollar Quartet

EASTON, PA—Everyone in that room that day in the Sun Records studio on 706 Union Avenue, Memphis, Tennessee, December 4, 1956, is dead. Except for Jerry Lee Lewis, 78, who will live forever. If I’m wrong, let someone within the sound of my voice raise their hand and say, “I was there.” I’d like to talk to you.

“Million Dollar Quartet” is on the road and its stop at the State Theatre was a joyous one-act blast of real rockabilly music played by pros. The chemistry between the protagonists is like an open group therapy session…revealing, dramatic and gives the production its balls.

It was a Carl Perkins session. He was desperately trying to recreate the success of his only hit, “Blue Suede Shoes,” which his former friend Elvis Presley done stole from him, recorded a superior version, and played it live on TV. On piano was a brash crazy kid who no one had yet heard of, Jerry Lee. Elvis had been cut loose by Sun owner Sam Phillips. He got $35,000 from RCA, invested it wisely by buying stock in a little hotel down the road called Holiday Inn, and was planning on making more music with Perkins and Johnny Cash. Problem was, Columbia offered them both contracts they couldn’t refuse.

Elvis visited that day, about a year after leaving Sun. He had sold 27 million records in 11 months. What went on in that room that day has been the subject of conjecture ever since.

Presley sat down at the piano. Perkins strapped on his guitar. Lewis added high harmony. Cash left, never once participating, but, before he did, posed for a picture with the other three. The Memphis newspaper dubbed it “The Million Dollar Quartet.” Perkins, Presley and Lewis had a ball jamming on 41 tunes of gospel, Gene Autry, Grand Ole Opry stuff, doo-wop, Chuck Berry and, at one point, Elvis imitates Jackie Wilson.

The CD, after legal wrangling when Perkins claimed he owned the masters because it was his session, finally came out in 1990.

This musical debuted on Broadway in 2010, using only three of the 41 songs, adding 20 others as befits a “greatest hits”-styled jukebox musical. But that’s okay. The heart and soul of the show is John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis…a cocky lovable nut who knows he’s more talented than the other three put together (and a good argument could be made for that) but is obnoxious, hilarious and totally in-your-face. As great as Countryman’s performance is—on vocals, piano and as a comedic actor—he can only scratch the surface of the deep madness and darkness within the real Jerry Lee. I mean, damn, just imagine being groomed for the ministry, totally believing in your soul that you would spend eternity in hell if you played this new-fangled rock ‘n’ roll music…AND DOING IT ANYWAY. “I’m going to hell and I’m taking my audiences with me,” he once said…and he wasn’t kidding.

Scott Moreau sounds exactly like Cash on “Folsom Prison Blues,” “16 Tons,” “I Walk The Line” and “Ring Of Fire.”

James Barry can play those classic Perkins guitar licks and portrays the pain of Perkins whining about “Blue Suede Shoes”…“but it’s MY song!”

Tyler Hunter is a supremely satisfying Elvis. He’s got the moves, the voice, the attitude, and comes complete with a fictional boy-toy on his arm, “Dyanne,” who belts out “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking.”

With a bassist (Corey Kaiser, the original bassist of this show) and a drummer (Patrick Morrow), these boys rock live and real to the point where you want to start trip-hopping down the aisle. This is one feel-good ride I can wholeheartedly recommend…and the acoustics at the State Theatre are, in a word, perfecto.


Upcoming at the State Theatre—The Fab Faux, March 1; Teatro Lirico D’Europa’s Tribute To Luciano Pavarotti, March 9; Bobby Collins, March 21; “Rock Of Ages,” March 23; Johnny Mathis, March 26; The Charlie Daniels Band, March 28; 4 Girls 4, April 4; Deana Martin, April 25; The Bronx Wanderers, April 26.