A million dollar evening’s worth

Nat Zegree, Shaun Whitley, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex around the piano as in their characters' pose in the famed Million dollar Quartet photo
Nat Zegree, Shaun Whitley, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex around the piano as in their characters’ pose in the famed Million dollar Quartet photo

4 stars

Going to Marriott Theatre for “Million Dollar Quartet” is like going to an amazing concert.

Some of the story-line is there on how and why future pianist extraordinaire Jerry Lee Lewis, the already famous Elvis Presley, the growingly popular Johnny Cash and the originator of “Blue Suede Shoes,” singer Carl Perkins, had all stopped by Sam Phillips’ Sun Records Memphis recording studio and service on the same December day in 1956.

But the reason to go to the show is to hear and see those four personalities come alive  during an extraordinary 90 plus minutes jamming of “I Walk the Line,” “That’s All Right (Mama),” Who Do You Love,” “Great Balls of Fire”  and their other hits.

The event, the only time these four future legendary entertainers were at the same place at the same moments, was captured by Phillips in a photo that would become famous. I saw it in the museum that is the Sun Records building in Memphis. The building is definitely worth a visit.

Phillips who became known as the “Father of Rock and Roll,” had recognized a future in syncing what was considered at the time to be “Negro” sounds and rhythms with other beats.

What the Marriott show doesn’t go into is the part radio personality Marion Keisker, a collaborator at Phillips’ Memphis Recording Service, played in bringing Elvis on board.

Originally conceived and directed by Floyd Mutrux with book by Colin Escott and Mutrux, the show is basically a jukebox musical. Premiered in Florida in 2006, it was produced in Chicago in 2008 first at Goodman Theatre and then moved to the Apollo Theater where it ran until fall 2014.

However, it does include short, spotlit, freeze points where Phillips interacts with each performer he developed while the other entertainers are in stop-action shadows.

It has Elvis accompanied by girlfriend Dyanne, portrayed with pizzazz by Laura Savage. She does a great “Fever” torch song during the jam session. As an aside, some stories about the event say he was accompanied by girlfriend Marilyn Evans.

From L. Laura Savage, Nat Zegree, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex in Million Dollar Quartet at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. (Photos by Liz Lauren)
From L. Laura Savage, Nat Zegree, Rustin Cole Sailors and Christopher J. Essex in Million Dollar Quartet at Marriott Theatre Lincolnshire. (Photos by Liz Lauren)

What does matter is that the whole Marriott cast is terrific. Christopher J. Essex who has played the role elsewhere, really sounds like Johnny Cash. Rustin Cole Sailors who has been in several musicals on the West Coast does a fine Elvis impression. Shaun Whitley who reprises his Carl Perkins role during part of the Apollo Theater run has the perfect voice and plays a mean guitar.

But the person who usually makes this musical fun and exciting for me is the pianist portraying Jerry Lee Lewis. After more than 300 performances as Jerry Lee, as the famed entertainer is often called, Nat Zegree can not only play the piano with one hand, backwards, upside-down and certainly not sitting, but he can also do it blind-folded and does so during the encore.

Longtime actor David Folsom who has performed in shows from California to New York is a believable Sam Philips. Other important characters, although they are off to the side, are Zach Lentino reprising his role in the Apollo production as Jay Perkins, brother of Carl Perkins, on bass, and Kieran McCabe as drummer W.S. “Fluke” Holland which he has also played in other “Million Dollar” productions.

I also liked the use of the usually darkened, glassed-in room where Marriott Theatre’s  musicians usually perform turned into Sun Records’ recording room.

Indeed, the entire staging was handled well. It felt as if we were all there at Sun Records.

So kudos to director James Moye, music director Ryan T. Nelson, set designer Jeffrey D. Kmiec, sound designer  Robert E. Gilmartin and lighting designer Jesse Klug.

On the nit-picking side of what is otherwise a great show, I found the constant lighting up of cigarettes to be a distraction even though smoking was very popular mid last century. I also thought there were too many dead spots mixed in with Zegree’s rant about devil music. The other characters looked as though they were supposed to say something but didn’t and those time lapses were too long.

But the Marriott production is good enough to see more than once and share with friends.

DETAILS:  “Million Dollar Quartet” is at Marriott Theatre, Ten Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, IL through March 16, 2019. Running time: approximately 100 min. no intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.

Jodie Jacobs

For more shows visit Theatre in Chicago

 

 

‘Holiday Inn’ dances joyous path through the holidays

 

Holiday Inn cast at Marriott Theatre with Johanna McKenzie Miller and Will Burton in the center. (Liz Lauren photos)
Holiday Inn cast at Marriott Theatre with Johanna McKenzie Miller and Will Burton in the center. (Liz Lauren photos)

3.5 stars

Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas,” now playing at Marriott Theatre, is among the composer’s delightful story-telling songs in “Holiday Inn.” But don’t confuse Berlin’s “Holiday Inn,”  a musical that has a book by Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge, with the show, “White Christmas.”

Based on the 1942 Universal film with Bing Crosby and Fred Astaire, “Holiday Inn” packs “Blue Skies,” “Steppin’ Out With My Baby,” “Heat Wave,” “Shaking the Blues Away,” “It’s a Lovely Day Today”, “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” and “Let’s Take an Old-Fashioned Walk” into a delightful, old-fashioned-style hokey, song and dance musical that ends with happily ever after.Read More

Extra Extra: Publishing titans bested

 

RECOMMENDED

Catch your breath! First and foremost, ‘Newsies’ is known for its powerhouse, high energy dancing.

Cast of Newsies at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre. Liz Lauren photo
Cast of Newsies at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre. Liz Lauren photo

Based on the 1992 movie and inspired by the real-life Newsboy Strike of 1899, this Tony-award winning musical boasts a delightful score by eight-time Academy Award winner Alan Menken, lyrics by Jack Feldman, and book by four-time Tony Award winner Harvey Fierstein.

It’s a David versus Goliath story  that shook the ivory towers of publishing titans William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer in New York City at the turn of the last century.

The story could just as well have come from the headlines of today’s newspapers about social injustice and workers striking for well-deserved benefits.

It’s the ultimate story of courage and believing in one’s self. ‘Newsies’ follows orphan Jack Kelly and his rag-tag band of young newsboys who dream of a better life than living on the streets.

Choreographer and Jeff Award nominee Alex Sanchez (Marriott Theatre: Evita, On the Town, Mary Poppins) brings his high-octane energy and brilliance as director of the heartwarming piece with Musical Direction by Jeff Award winner Ryan T. Nelson.

Patrick Rooney stars as Jack Kelly who’s got enough swagger and spit to win the heart of beautiful Eliza Palasz as Katherine Plumber.

Stand-outs include the wonderful Stephanie Pope as Medda Larkin, Nick Graffagna as Davey, the brains behind the union and Matthew Uzarraga as Crutchie. The ensemble earn well-deserved kudos for their passionate, powerful dance moves.

DETAILS: ‘Newsies’ is at Marriott Lincolnshire Theatre, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire  through Dec. 31, 2017. Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes with one intermission. For tickets and other information call (847) 634-0200 and visit Marriott Theatre.

Mira Temkin

For more shows visit TheatreinChicago.