Million Dollar Quartet | Theatre Review
Grand Opera House, Belfast • Tuesday 25 April 2017
By Conor O’Neill
‘Wow!’ If I was to write a one word review, that’d be it. Belfast’s Grand Opera House played host to 600 plus rock n roll aficionados, and against the grain of my original thoughts, what with Jason Donovan playing the lead as Sam Phillips, record mogul of Sun Records, I assumed the crowd would be mostly made up of 30-somethings vying to see their 80s stroke early 90s’ pin-up in action. How far was I wrong? Instead, the majority was those who lived it and loved it, and sang every word.
The script was, according to those in the know, half-right, half-fiction, but the night wasn’t about the truthful telling of the events of a fateful night in December 1956 when Sun Record members past and present had a jam; instead, it was a celebration of the music that shaped almost everything we hear today. Yes, Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins were in the same studio and a jam did ensue, but the facts are, like all great moments in history, blurred from retelling. What is true and beyond question is that magic did happen. Based on the book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the musical, conceived by the latter, is brought to life by a wonderful cast and terrific musicianship of six multi-talented actors.
Donovan doesn’t sing a word, but he does play a pivotal role and his accent doesn’t slip a bit as a southern gent who believes, unlike many, that ‘rock n roll is not a passing fad, but a revolution.’ Prophetic words indeed, even if he didn’t mutter them. The rest of the cast is a delight. Ross William Wild’s Elvis captivates with every word, note and twist of those latterly banned hips. Carl Perkins, played by Matthew Wycliffe is electricity tapped, just about and always gearing for a fight. Robbie Durham’s Johnny Cash, just like reality plays a softer, more introspective role and a winning temperance to the live wire and red hot ferocity to the new kid on the block that is Jerry Lee Lewis. For me Ashley Carruthers’ Jerry Lee made my night. Not only for his musicianship, which saw him playing the high notes with his right foot, but all the notes in between while standing on top of his ‘piana’. Special mention for Katie Ray’s Dyanne, Elvis’s then girlfriend, who holds her own among the shedloads of testosterone on stage. Her rendition of Fever is truly spine-tingling.
And the songs? Well, they run like an A to Z of rock n roll’s greatest hits. ‘Blue Suede Shoes’, ‘stolen’ from Perkins by Elvis, ‘That’s Alright Momma’, ‘Sixteen Tonnes’, ‘Great Balls of Fire’, ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On’, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, ‘Hound Dog’, ‘Matchbox’ and a little of Chuck Berry with ‘Brown Eyed Handsome Man’ thrown in for good measure, are just a few of the hits on show here.
There’s also a little social commentary in the mix too. The white kids were obsessed with ‘Negro’ music and Phillips had to find a white man with a black voice. The Sun Records leader with a poor unknown Elvis on his doorstep quips, “I never heard a rich man sing a good tune” before asking the King in waiting to, “sing to me like you were singing to God,” before Elvis breaks into ‘That’s Alright Momma’ and history was made.
There is little sense of homily here, the audience sings like it’s the first time hearing these songs. The ovation which lasted a good 15 minutes sees all the cast out and musicians rockin’ out with Perkins standing atop of James Swinnerton’s double bass with a cherry red Gibson 335 as Ben Cullingworth hammers the drums with an enthralled audience grooving away. You still reading this? Go book your tickets.
Million Dollar Quartet runs until Saturday 29 April. For booking details phone the box office on 02890 241919 or visit www.goh.co.uk