IVINS — A masked audience is a poor reception for Million Dollar Quartet at Tuacahn this summer. What amazing talent! Yet the audience barely cheered, with their mouths all covered, despite the vaccine rollout and things getting back to normal everywhere else. This show was a phenomenal rock and roll story, with four famous singers coming together to tell it with their producer.
The story, written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, was well put together and directed. The artistic director was Scott S. Anderson, the director and choreographer was Keith Andrews, and the music direction was by David Sonneborn. There were so many moments that most likely were created by all three of these men. When the story is set up by John Gardiner as Sun Records owner, Sam Phillips, the four musicians are together singing one of the best hits, “Blue Suede Shoes.” Sam Phillips explains how he got all four together for that one night that made history. As the show progressed, I most enjoyed how they were able to mesh the rocking music to telling the story. Sometimes characters stepped out of the recording studio into the night air, and the music would soften and then as they stopped talking to listen, the music would swell to full power. Sometimes during a song, the four main characters would move together, adding emphasis to the words and music and making it so memorable. The ending was also epic the way they set everyone up in position to show a window to the past.
I loved how the lighting and set complimented the music. Paul Black was lighting designer and Derek Mclane designed the set. The front drop would show the front of the studio from the outside, with the name “Sun” lit up in neon orange letters. Once that frpmt drop lifted, the inside had black padded walls and a back room for recording. The lighting would flash during certain songs, like in, “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” when the lights shot out at the audience as if to mimic lightning. It was so powerful and awesome!
Gabe Aronson played Jerry Lee Lewis, and he came out swinging with his intensely emotional juvenile attitude. Aronson played his role most obnoxiously, so much so that I didn’t like him as much this time around, because three years ago he seemed to steal the show with his raw talent and skill. I appreciated his toning it down, because I was able to really enjoy Colin Summers‘s performance, playing Carl Perkins. He was much more powerful and able to hold his ground against the intensity of Aronson. However, I was disappointed that some of Aronson’s over-the-top acting was so much that his character became unrealistic. I wish Aronson had been able to play the character more genuinely like I’d seen before.
Summers was a blast to see perform and get into his music. At one point, Carl Perkins (Summers) balanced on his brother’s large bass instrument, perching above the others while playing his guitar. He brought out some powerful emotion when he defended his song that had been swiped by Elvis. Brother Jay, played by Isaac Erickson, was a fun addition to the cast, and funny to be cast as Summers’s brother when they looked nothing alike. Erickson as Jay was fantastic at playing the Bass and had a few moments of his own to jam on it, even climbing it himself during an intense solo.
Elvis Presley was played by Kavan Hashemian. I remember seeing him at Tuachan for this same show three years ago, too, and I had the same feeling about him then as I did this time—that he was good but didn’t move his legs enough! Hashemian was so talented on the guitar and with his mannerisms and facial expressions, but those legs! They were described as, “he has jumping beans in his pants,” and I didn’t see this guy really pulling that off. However, Hashemian’s acting was great, and he had some good moments with Aronson as Jerry Lee Lewis, protecting his lady from the brave opportunist.
Kyli Rae played Dyanne, Elvis’ girlfriend. Rae had a voice like no other and could hold a note for so long and so powerfully, I thought it had been recorded. But as she finished, I realized it couldn’t have been recorded and was floored by her ability. Rae also was a fun actress and had some good moments of calming down the excitable Aronson as Jerry Lee Lewis and soothing others in the cast.
Benjamin Hale made a mean Johnny Cash. Hale as Johnny Cash was bold, confident, and he just relished in those low notes. His character was the least likely to take the stage, and when Hale as Cash finally broke out and yelled at Aronson as Jerry Lee Lewis to sit down and shut up, it was like a train ran through the building. Johnny Cash’s eye squint when he was singing looked so iconic even though it wasn’t necessarily a Cash trait.
This show was an absolute blast, whether it was Aronson as Jerry Lee Lewis playing circus music when asked to play celebration music, or when Phillips realizes the only choice for him is to keep his studio and run it with his full control rather than give up that freedom for money. I loved the characters and storyline, and the work of those who put this production together. Even when it was over, there was a nice, long, indulgent encore, and I got to hear from each famous performer. I just wish the audience could have gotten into it more, and the masks were the main hindrance to that. Despite that annoyance, I’m glad to have gone and seen this show. And to anyone who hasn’t seen it yet, I’d love to help you get there. In my program was a 50% off code that expires July 8, and you can get tickets Monday-Thursday using this code: MDQ50. See you later, alligator!