Huffpost New York
THE BLOG

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Fern Siegel Headshot

Stage Door: Million Dollar Quartet, Cirque's Ovo

Posted: Updated:
Print

Great balls of fire! It's Jerry Lee, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Elvis -- and in Million Dollar Quartet, they blow the roof off a one-room sound studio in Memphis. Loosely based on an extraordinary jam session in late 1956, MDQ boasts a lineup that will leave Fifties music fans drooling.

The music is hot and the narrative simple. Yet it encapsulates the rivalry, resentments and shared pathos of the performers. Thanks to the genius of legendary record producer Sam Phillips, there's a whole lotta shakin' going on at the Nederlander.

All five, including Phillips (a just-right Hunter Foster), have the same background: poor, Southern and barely educated. And all, under his careful tutelage, produced a singular sound that forever changed the American musical landscape. Elvis (a love-me-tender Eddie Clendening), Cash (Lance Guest), Perkins (a terrific Robert Britton Lyons) and a fired-up Jerry Lee Lewis (a fantastic Levi Kreis) have paid a call on their mentor, whose Sun Records launched their careers.

1956 is a pivotal year: Elvis is showcased on The Ed Sullivan Show and successfully usurps Perkin's "Blue Suede Shoes." Jerry Lee is about to burst onto the rock 'n' roll scene, while Carl Perkins, the father of rockabilly, and brooding country boy Johnny Cash are stepping into the big leagues.

In an America of Eisenhower banality and Eddie Fisher swank, three rebels with an unmistakable air of danger -- especially to a teen audience -- let loose. (The older Cash is a more sober performer.) Floyd Mutrux, credited with the show's concept and book (with co-writer Colin Escott), has used the makeshift session to highlight audience favorites, such as "Hound Dog" "Who Do You Love?" and "Great Balls of Fire," introduce the singers behind the mike and pay tribute to Phillips, whose keen ear and boundless energy birthed a revolution.

Phillips grasped two key points: There was a new audience buying records and a genuine artist, whatever his demons, can dig deep within to find his own voice. In Million Dollar Quartet, that truth comes alive in an atmosphere of remarkable innocence - the boys drink soda pop, call their producer Mr. Phillips and, when Elvis arrives with Diane in tow (Elizabeth Stanley, who possesses a powerful set of pipes), both Perkins and Cash demand Lewis curb his tongue - there's a lady present.

Like Jersey Boys, this is a fast-paced jukebox musical that has audiences cheering. The four accomplished actor/musicians are playing for most of the show -- and it's toe-tapping fun. They don't just perform; they bring down the house! Million Dollar Quartet knows what Sam Phillips did: It's all about the music.

Cirque du Soliel's Ovo knows it's all about the body -- specifically, those who have mastered the artistic demands of sophisticated circus arts. In its latest show at Randall's Island Park, Ovo posits an ecosystem teaming with life. Ants, spiders, scarabs, butterflies, crickets and Diabolo, a firefly, are among the exquisitely costumed and magnificent creatures that populate this creative biosphere.

All are fascinated by an extremely large egg that a wacky stranger brings into their midst. Of course, it's merely a device to kick-start the show. And what a show! Crickets bounce off walls, acrobatic scarabs fly through the air! Ovo is an eye-popping feast of sights and sounds; it's beauty in motion. Nature never looked as artistic as it does under the 66-foot high grand chapiteau. To say audiences are wowed is an understatement; they are transported into a world where every note and every move is carefully orchestrated to achieve artistic perfection.

It's not just great family fun; it's breathtaking. Ovo's artistic directors, as Walt Whitman did long ago, sing the body electric.