Well it’s four for the money

Simon Hale provides another look at the show currently rocking the Hippodrome.

Million Dollar Quartet
Birmingham Hippodrome

From the opening moments when Matthew Wycliffe as an American country boy strikes the first notes of Blue Suede Shoes on electric guitar, you sense you are in for an explosive evening.

Here on an intimate set replicating Sun Records in Memphis, Wycliffe is playing the legendary Carl Perkins with electrifying energy on one of the most historic days in the history of rock and roll. For Million Dollar Quartet relives the fourth of December 1956 when Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash dropped by on a Carl Perkins recording session where Jerry Lee Lewis was also playing.

What resulted was the one and only time that the four icons jammed together before Perkins and Cash moved on to Columbia Records and Presley to RCA Victor. Long Tall Sally, I Walk the Line, Down by the Riverside are just a few of the rock and roll classics that are reeled off by the supremely talented Birmingham-born Wycliffe, Ross William Wild (as Presley), Roby Durham (Cash), and Martin Kaye (Lewis) all with accents that are close to spot on.

But this Tony award-winning show created by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux is not a concert interrupted by conversation but a play with music telling a true story about power, jealousy and ambition. The often tense relationship between the singers and the record producer Sam Phillips, played brilliantly by Jason Donovan, is clearly explored in a way that allows the singers’ characters to come to life.

We learn of the animosity between Perkins and Presley after the latter sang Blue Suede Shoes on the Ed Sullivan Show leading to everybody from then on thinking that it was his rather than Perkins’ song. Lewis, portrayed as the first wild man of rock and roll, provides much of the humour through his cockiness and determination to show off his dexterity on keyboards at every possible opportunity.

The musical’s creators become extra imaginative in introducing Presley’s girlfriend to the recording session – a singer called Dyanne. In reality it was a dancer from Las Vegas called Marilyn Evans. Katie Ray sings Fever and I Hear You Knocking with a glorious voice but disappears for one of the highpoints when the four male singers freeze to replicate a giant photo taken at the original session.

The electrified audience rose to their feet clapping and dancing when the show finally turned from play to concert as the boys let rip with Great Balls of Fire, Hound Dog, and See You Later Alligator.

One of Birmingham’s biggest theatrical hits of the year, Million Dollar Quartet is not to be missed. The production continues at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday, October 29th.