“Million Dollar Quartet,” now playing through March 18 at the Dallas Summer Musicals, tells the story of that momentous occasion, which was the first and only time the four sang together. The event became known as one of the greatest rock ‘n’ roll jam sessions in history.
Playing the role of recording mogul Sam Phillips is Denton, Texas’ Christopher Ryan Grant.
Grant appeared in the New York production of “Million Dollar Quartet” that ran April 11, 2010 through June 12, 2011 at the Nederlander Theatre, closing after 489 performances. He replaced the original Sam Phillips and was also understudy for Johnny Cash. That was the actor’s first Broadway show.
Apparently, these guys are musicians first, before actors. The show is just loud enough to feel like a concert, with each artist having mastery of his instrument. Derek Keeling is certainly convincing as Cash with his bottomless bass voice. While Joaquin Phoenix’ voice was a dead-ringer for Cash’s in the film, “Walk the Line,” and he was plenty easy on the eyes, Keeling nails it.
As Elvis, Cody Slaughter’s moves takes us back to the day. Slaughter must have done a lot of research and studying to replicate Elvis’ unique phrasing and familiar vibrato, in addition to his physicality. He sings Elvis’ hits beautifully. He makes a good Elvis, without seeming trite like a cheesy Las Vegas impersonator.
Lee Ferris’ Carl Perkins, the “King of rockabilly,” is an amazing musician and nails Perkins’ signature moves and gestures.
However, the audience couldn’t get enough of Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis. His dexterity on the piano is, in a word, awesome. There is no accompanying orchestra in this show. In fact, patrons are seated in the orchestra pit, so these talented musicians truly have an opportunity to shine, and they do. Kaye creates magic on the ivories, as he throws himself into the role. He is the most energetic in the cast.
Grant said about playing Sam Phillips, “I have an unbelievable weight on my shoulders while portraying someone so important to the world of music. He was 35-ish, not that much older than me when he made history. He was a compassionate man and a really nice person.”
Included in the diverse score of rock, gospel, R&B and country hits are: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Who Do You Love?,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Matchbox,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Whole Lotta’ Shakin’ Goin’ On” and “Hound Dog.”
Phillips, who also discovered singer Roy Orbison, sold Sun Records in 1969 and was an early investor in the Holiday Inn chain, as he mentions in the show.
Grant said that he is excited about coming “home” to perform at the Music Hall. The actor has family in Texas, all of whom plan to see the show en masse.
The actor received a BFA from the University of Evansville, and earned an MFA from Yale School of Acting. He attended Oxford University where he studied Shakespeare.
This is the actor’s 55th show and his first national tour. Grant enlightened cast party guests of a nuance not widely known. He said that John Lennon claimed that the Beatles would never have gotten their start without the influence of Carl Perkins. “They worshipped him,” Grant said.
Grant added, “It’s daunting that the show is based on a true story. It’s like being a fly on the wall during a great moment in history. These guys were just buddies hanging out, but became legends in rock & roll history.”
The native Texan explained, “It’s not just a juke box musical. You get to find out how the four guys got there and what shaped their careers. The story has heart to it.”
It was at the Denton Community Center where Grant made his musical debut as Huck Finn in “Big River.”
With a passion for Shakespeare, Grant appeared in “Romeo and Juliet” in D.C. Most of his training has been in the classics.
When asked about his dancing skills, Grant said, “I have good rhythm. I’m no ballerina, but I can move.”
Be aware that this is a one-act show, with no intermission. Running time is 90 minutes.
“Million Dollar Quartet” will run at the Music Hall at Fair Park through March 18 with evening performances Tuesday through Saturday at 8 p.m. and matinees Saturday and Sunday at 2 p.m. The final performance will be Sunday, March 18 at 2 p.m.