By Kimberly Rau
On Dec. 4, 1956, four rock and roll superstars found themselves in the recording studio of Sun Records in Memphis. What followed was an iconic jam session between Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins…and decades later, a jukebox musical about the experience, which brings us to Theatre by the Sea’s 2022 season opener.
Under the direction (and choreography) of Greg Santos, this fun musical is just the ticket to kicking off summer fun in South County. Like many jukebox musicals, Million Dollar Quartet relies on tunes, not storyline, to sell itself. The show’s plot is thin, and the dialogue is contrived. The good news is, the music more than makes up for it, and the actors are perfectly cast sensations.
Jerry Lee Lewis is the first one in the room, playing background piano for Carl Perkins, who’s running late. Taylor Isaac Gray not only has Lewis’ mannerisms and voice down pat, but he’s an incredible musician. Every time his character has to show off on the piano (which is often; Jerry Lee Lewis wasn’t exactly known for being shy or humble), Gray brings the house down. He’s that good.
Not to be outdone, Colin Summers is an excellent Carl Perkins, with a voice that really sells his songs (who remembers that Carl Perkins was the original artist behind Blue Suede Shoes?) and a guitar-playing ability to match. Perkins is frequently irritated by hot-shot newcomer Lewis, and Gray and Summers play the tension perfectly.
Next comes Sky Seals, who more than does justice to Johnny Cash. His vocal affectations are spot-on, his guitar skills are stellar, and when he sings “Folsom Prison Blues,” you forget you’re not watching a live recording of Cash.
Rounding out the quartet is Elvis Presley, played by Alessandro Viviano. At this point in time, Elvis had already been signed to RCA Records, but he had come home to pay a visit to his old manager. Viviano has Elvis’ moves down pat and is a thrill to watch. Elvis has brought along a girlfriend and aspiring singer, Dyanne, played by Emma Wilcox, who has a fantastic voice and even better dance skills. Add in the backup band of two (drums and upright bass) who are also part of Perkins’ group, and manager/producer Sam Phillips to narrate, and you’re set up for a hit.
This is one of the most fun shows Theatre by the Sea has put up in a while, and is basically a playlist of all your favorite oldies, including Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Hound Dog, I Walk the Line, Fever, Blue Suede Shoes and more. The musical clocks in at right around two hours, including intermission, which is the perfect length, and ends with four songs that had the audience on its feet, dancing along with the cast. If you need a night out that’s sure to make you smile, head down to Matunuck before this one closes.
Million Dollar Quartet runs through June 18 at Theatre by the Sea, 364 Cards Pond Rd., Matunuck. Tickets are available online at theatrebythesea.com or by calling 401.782.8587. Masks are encouraged but not required.