In a mid-musical flashback, record producer Sam Phillips tells in his protégé Elvis Presley, “If you aren’t doing something original, you just as well aren’t doing anything at all.” If that is the case “Million Dollar Quartet”, the latest attempt by musical theatre to turn nostalgia in to cash, is nothing at all. The odd lovechild of “Jersey Boys” and “Rock of Ages” can be described in one word: lackluster.
The based-on-a-true-story musical centers around Sun Records, the label owner, and the four musicians who life were changed by it: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Louis. Occurring in real-time (with a few flashbacks) is the impromptu jam session the four had in Sun Record’s recording studio. The plot is not particularly action packed, and it shows. For a ninety-minute show, the musical really drags on.
The likability of the music, which the production clearly favors over its mediocre plot, is entirely dependent on whether or not audience members were fans of the original members of the quartet. Unlike most of the overly abundant jukebox-musicals, “Million Dollar Quartet” made no changes to the music. Each song sounds like a carbon copy of the records they we taken from. The most likable number is the folky “Down By the Riverside,” performed by all four stars. Despite being a copy of the track the four stars sang together on the actual event, it sounds fresher and like less of an imitation than the other numbers.
Like the music, the acting walks the fine line of Vegas impersonations rather than real acting throughout the show. Cody Slaughter’s (Presley) performance, in particular, borders on caricature. The other three of the quartet touch upon overdoing it from time to time but to a lesser extent. Marin Kaye (Lewis) could almost be considered charming at times. The best performance of the night goes to someone with less the option of becoming a knock-off: Kelly Lamont as Dyanne, Elvis’ girlfriend, the most continuously likable character in the musical.
Even if the boys aren’t groundbreaking actors, they are very talented musicians. In fact, the best aspect of the entire show is the live music. Each cast member sans Phillips and Dyanne playing a musical instrument at some point, was an impressive and fun part of the show. The set is relatively minimalistic and does little to add or take away from the performance. The top technical moment in the production is when the picture of the original four is projected and mirrored by the actors on stage.
“Million Dollar Quartet” is a very obvious attempt at pander to the over-fifty generation’s sentimentality for better days. Occasionally cheesy and lacking much depth, the musical seems a bit more dinner-theatre than Broadway.