Ever wish you were a fly on the wall for a historic event? Ogunquit Playhouse’s “Million Dollar Quartet” opens a musical time capsule that allows the audience to not just witness rock ‘n’ roll history, but live it, with interactive narration and a roof-raising jam session that leaves patrons dancing out the doors.
December 4, 1956 is legendary in music history as the day Sun Studio’s Sam Phillips brought together up-and-coming rock ‘n’ roll icons Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis for an impromptu recording session that would be remembered as one of the greatest jam sessions of all time. The famed event inspired Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux’s Tony Award-winning “Million Dollar Quartet.”
Ogunquit playhouse has the distinction of being the first regional theater in the country to stage the musical. And Broadway veteran Hunter Foster, who originated the role of Sam Phillips on Broadway, is directing.
The production weaves a fictionalized storyline between an incredible 23-song set list of rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, R&B and country hits that includes “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “That’s All Right,” “Down By the Riverside” and “Great Balls of Fire.” Phillips, played by Jason Loughlin, further keeps the audience engaged with audience-directed questions and narration, delivered while the rest of the cast is frozen in time.
Friday night’s performance was a toe-tapping, hip-shaking evening that sizzled with high-energy music. As with “Buddy,” which the playhouse staged in 2013, “Million Dollar Quartet” performers don’t just look and act like their legendary counterparts, they sing and play like them, too. The onstage cast members perform all the songs without the aid of an orchestra or pre-recorded tracks.
Robert Britton Lyons stars as Carl Perkins and serves as Ogunquit’s music supervisor. Lyons originated the role and has been with the show for every production since, including London’s West End and Las Vegas. Litchfield native Scott Moreau and Jacob Rowley are also reprising their roles as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley, having performed them on national tours. Nat Zegree completes the quartet, shaking things up as Jerry Lee Lewis.
The four amazing performers make it easy to forget that they aren’t actually their legendary characters. They have the look and sound of the fledgling stars, from Johnny Cash’s rumbling baritone-bass vocals and high-held guitar to Elvis’ gyrating hips and curled lip. Zegree, who has been playing piano since age 3, is mesmerizing to watch as Lewis, complete with flying fingers and rubber-limbed antics.
Bligh Voth, David Sonneborn and Sam Weber round out the cast of talented musicians as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, the session drummer Fluke and Perkins’ bass-playing older brother, Jay. Voth delivers a red-hot rendition of “Fever.” And Weber, who also starred as Joe B. Mauldin in “Buddy,” adds energized rockabilly flair on upright bass.
“Million Dollar Quartet” whisks patrons back in time, allowing them to experience an exciting piece of musical history. It’s a high-octane show till the very end, with the cast forgoing traditional bows to deliver a rock n’ roll medley of “Hound Dog,” “Riders in the Sky” and “See You Later Alligator” that showcases Rowley, Moreau and Lyons respectively. And just when it looks like the show is over, they return for encore of “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” featuring an unbelievable performance by Zegree.
WHAT: “Million Dollar Quartet” by Ogunquit Playhouse
WHERE: 10 Main St., Route 1
DATE REVIEWED: Aug. 21; runs through Sept. 19
TICKETS: $44 to $84
CONTACT: 207-646-5511; ogunquitplayhouse.org