Archikulture Digest
Million Dollar Quartet

Million Dollar Quartet

by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux

Orlando Shakes • Orlando, Florida

Directed by Jason Parrish

Staring Jeremy Sevelovitz, Bart Mather, Nat Zegree, John Rochette

Return to that magical night in 1956 when five of the top rock and rollers met up at Sun Records for the very last time.

Sure, rock and roll is the Devil’s music, but have you ever gotten any action after singing “What a Friend We Have in Jesus?” If you want to be fruitful and multiply like the Bible says, you need a little sin action in the air.

It’s the 4th of December, 1956, and all the hit makers are hanging out at Sam Phillips’s (John Gardiner) Sun Records Studio, writing a few tunes, drinking a few beers, and baring a few souls. Churches are preaching against Rock and Roll from the rooftops, and kids are dancing to it in the streets and GASP! enjoying the music black artists put out. We’re also right on the edge of some key recording contract date expirations, and tension fills the room.

Sam Phillips (Gardiner) runs Sun, it’s a small label in the old mechanic’s garage, but it has made some of the most iconic tunes of the 20th century. Jerry Lee Lewis (Zegree) has the experience and passion for sales. Johnny Cash (Mather) and Carl Perkins (Sevelovitz) Elvis Presley (Rochette) agonizes over sliding from church-approved gospel to a more sexy blues-oriented rock and roll. That’s when Jerry Lee Lewis (Zegree) drops in looking for a gig. This guy is the keyboard virtuoso, he literally plays while standing on his head. Zegree performs this bit of gymnastics over and over again, and it gets the crowd on its feet, no small feat for this seasoned theater audience — and this has GOT to be murder on his cartilage. Acting as agent provocateur is the outstanding Dyanne (Lauren Culver), she arrives to ask all the awkward questions lingering underfoot and artfully ignored by the macho hormones on stage.

And what a stage it is! The light show alone is worth at least a five spot to watch, and while it’s outstanding from a technical showman point of view, it also steers you right to where the director, Jason Perrish, wants you to look. He could have popped an elephant up through the lift if he wanted, assuming they could store and feed an elephant somewhere backstage. The one improbable plot point is getting all these superstars in one place at one time, but that’s the easy historical part. Sun Records was the Memphis label that could see across racial lines and make the socially verboten race music acceptable to young, white record buyers. True, the big labels were getting hip to the trend, and while Sun had stars, RCA had the simoleons and the distribution network and it was inevitable Sun would lose the war.

So what should you take away from this evening of excellence? Black music was already taking over the post WWII musical scene, and while parents and pulpits swore the music would send their kids to hell, God ultimately capitulated — but then he made christian rock, and I’ll let you jump to your own conclusions.

Orlando Shakes


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