Eric Morris, Matt Tatone, Frank Moran and Eric Sargent in a publicity photo for the Old Log Theatre’s Million Dollar Quartet.
Million Dollar Quartet, now playing at the Old Log, is a fun musical romp through rock and roll history. As jukebox musicals go, this one is quite pleasant and thankfully concise; too many such shows end up cramming too much music and exposition, leaving out the essential personalities and characters that draw audience in the first place. It’s not Elvis’s music that draws people to an Elvis impersonator concert – it’s the Elvis zeitgeist – some combination of the character, the look, the history, and the myth.
This is something which the Old Log’s production does very well, by focusing on the personalities of the titular quartet (Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley). The four actors playing the quartet aren’t dead ringers for the characters, but they capture pieces of them in their action, delivery, and shading that makes them come alive. As the firebrand singer behind “Great Balls of Fire,” Eric Morris’s Jerry Lee Lewis is an electric scene-stealer whose highpowered performance sparks with the physicality…watching him in action is quite experience. Morris and his costars are gathered, as curated by Kent Knutson’s direction, as a set of magnetic personalities that alternately attract and repel.
The central actor in this drama is Paul Rutledge as Sam Phillips, the legendary founder of Sun Records. Phillips doesn’t have a lot of material to work with – things are understandably tilted towards the titular quartet – but conveys a vivid sense of the love of music and trying to balance some very large personalities. Frank Joseph Moran’s portrayal of Elvis is understated, which actually works quite well. Mollie Fischer’s Dyanne injects some musical fire into the mix, but it’s a decided criticism of the material (whether or not it’s historically accurate) that so little is done with the character in the script. Fischer is lovely to hear sing, but the character’s dialogue is little more than a prod to make the central quartet emote. (This is less excusable since Marilyn Evans, the woman who was actually present, had several colorful adventures with Elvis.)
Is Million Dollar Quartet a great story narrative? No. Is it a great set of music, well-performed? Yes. Does it qualify as a good excuse to drive out to Excelsior and enjoy an evening of light-hearted entertainment? Yes.
Try the Fire dessert with some Prosecco.
Basil was named one of Musical America's 30 Professionals of the Year in 2017.