BWW Reviews: MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at The Paramount
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by Jay Irwin
When will they learn that simply putting the music of some notable singers on stage without a decent script to back it up does not a good musical make? It's didn't work for "Good Vibrations" it didn't work for "Lennon" and it doesn't work for "Million Dollar Quartet" currently playing at the Paramount Theatre. The only things saving this show are the fact that the incredible performers are playing their own instruments and that there's enough nostalgia on stage to choke a horse. But is that enough?
Based on the impromptu jam session at Sun Records in 1956, the show is about four Rock 'n Roll legends, Carl Perkins (Lee Ferris), Johnny Cash (Derek Keeling), Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye) and Elvis Presley (Cody Slaughter) who all end up in the recording studio of Sam Phillips (Christopher Ryan Grant), owner of Sun Records. Or is it? It seems the show is really about Phillips who, having already let Presley go to RCA, now has an offer to join him there. And that's really most of the story. Not enough to cover and entire show. In fact most of it comes out in about 10 minutes worth of dialog at the end of the show. Other than that, it's a bunch of talented musicians, impersonating legendary artists all strung together with forced dialog that pretty much amounts to "Hey, let's sing this song now!"
As I said the performers are amazing. All have the signature moves and speech patterns of their iconic roles down and all are very gifted performers and musicians. Even the lone woman on stage, Dyanne (who is on hand as Elvis' girlfriend) played by Kelly Lamont busts out with some incredible numbers from the period. And I have to call out Keeling who does a spot on Johnny Cash. But that's not enough for a musical. It needs a story and more than the lame one about Phillips supplied by writers Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux.
Speaking of Phillips, I'm not sure whose idea this was but he had the habit of interrupting these classic tunes to interject bits of trivia directly to the audience (goodbye 4th wall) and each time basically asking for applause. It would go, song, interruption, "Isn't he great?", applause (because we were told to) and back to song. But all that succeeded in doing was interrupt the flow of the number and diluting it. Why? Just let the guy sing the song, we'll applaud at the end. And if that weren't enough they insisted on having another mini concert after the show was done and engaging in my least favorite audience manipulation trend of telling everyone to stand up and dance during the final number to ensure the delusion of a standing ovation.
So what we have is a show with a lame book, begging for applause, that amounts to a Vegas "Legends in Concert" show. Now maybe I'm just from the wrong era to appreciate it. I mean I like the music of these men but the nostalgic aspect misses me. People able to latch onto that nostalgia I'm sure will and did enjoy the show more. But I just kept missing the point or need to tell this story. But then, I also missed the point or need for "Jersey Boys" too.
"Million Dollar Quartet" performs at the Paramount Theatre through May 20th. For tickets or information contact the Seattle Theater Group box office at 1-877-784-4849 or visit them online at www.stgpresents.org.
Photo credit: Jeremy Daniel