In the first moments of Million Dollar Quartet, you must quickly get adjusted to the fact that this story about four rock n' roll legends is really a story about the record company, Sun Records, that launched their careers. Sure, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis are the first ones to appear on stage; but it's their producer and visionary Sam Phillips who does the talking. And that rock n' roll good time doesn't let up for nearly 100 minutes thereafter.
Nevertheless, it's the music here that really tells the story. The crowd was wowed by amazing renditions of their favorite classics, some by the artists featured here, others written by some of the industry's greatest singers. On one night in a record studio in December 1956, these four men joined forces to visit their old stomping ground, to reminisce, and to jam. It was the first and only time that it happened, as the artists' career trajectories headed in vastly different directions after this incredible meeting of the mikes.
Beyond their different career arcs and musical styles and instruments, these four men demonstrate vastly different personalities. In the scenes where music isn't playing, and we witness these men talk about the more mundane and hidden side of music, it's easy to forget that these four men were even famous at all. Watching the young and ambitious Lewis try to get along with the admonishing Perkins, sullen Cash, and bewildered Presley, you wonder how else these four guys could ever have met one another if not for their musical talents that brought them together. Phillips, it seems, is the man with the most talent of them all for recognizing the possibilities in each of them, and risking it all to turn them into stars.
This showcase couldn't have happened at any other time in history. And it couldn't have happened in public either. For one night, though, Phillips, thanks to the loyalty and love that his artists had for him, captured the early days of rock n' roll in one location. I can't remotely imagine what that scene would look like today -- what four artists would even fit the mold? What production company has these kinds of relationships and pull?
That, I believe, is what resonates so well with the audience. Yes, the music is familiar and still very much alive 55 years later. What makes this show so impressive, however, is that we'll likely never see anything like that night happen again. Four unique voices united as one.
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