Million Dollar Quartet at Arts Club Theatre

Million Dollar Quartet, a jukebox musical based on the book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, dramatizes the infamous Million Dollar Quartet recording session at Sun Studio on December 4, 1956.

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis were four Sun Studio musicians still early in their careers at the time and wound up jamming together in Sam Phillips’ Memphis recording studio.

Tanner Zerr
[Tanner Zerr as Johnny Cash]

You’re in for a real treat as the iconic evening is recreated with these four greats, plus a little spunky feminine touch courtesy of the talented Emma Pedersen, who portrays Dyanne, Elvis Presley’s girlfriend at the time. She also gets to perform a couple of numbers, providing the show with a sultry quality in addition to The King’s moves and Perkins’s smooth talking and flashy smile.

Nick Fontaine, Felix LeBlanc, Emma Pedersen Jay Clift
[Nick Fontaine, Felix LeBlanc, Emma Pedersen Jay Clift]

Conversations flow between the musicians and Phillips (Jay Clift adopts the perfect Southern drawl in his role), as he recounts moments in his career, Sun Studios history and his stable of talent. Clift, as Sam Phillips, also engages the audience through personal interaction and comedic moments.

As each musician enters the room, the tunes keep coming, starting out with Blue Suede Shoes (written by Carl Perkins and later made a hit by Presley, which doesn’t go over too well as audiences learn of the rivalry — “Stay the hell out of my way on my record”).

The Granville Island Stage contains the interior of Sun Studios as well as a vintage Coke billboard above which later reveals bold, colourful text, close-ups of the musicians as well as conversations outside the studio and in the sound room, done in a clever mirrored effect, courtesy of video designer Joel Grinke.

Million Dollar Quartet at Arts Club Theatre

Attention to detail is evident via Patrick Rizzotti’s set design, including vintage microphones, gold records on the wall, a piano, drum kit and variety of classic guitars. At once the infamous Memphis Recording Service neon sign is present on the window, with closed blinds as can be viewed at the real Memphis studio on 706 Union Avenue.

The cast work incredibly well together, with Stephen Thakkar’s Elvis, Mateo Chavez Lewis’s Jerry Lee Lewis, Felix LeBlanc’s Carl Perkins and Tanner Zerr’s Johnny Cash looking like they’re having the time of their lives up there.

Mateo Chavez Lewis
[Mateo Chavez Lewis as Jerry Lee Lewis]

By midway through the one-act, 90-minute production, it’s clear that Chavez as Jerry Lee Lewis is the scene-stealer, though all musicians put in a sound performance.

Alaia Hamer’s period attire (right down to Carl’s blue suede shoes and Jerry Lee’s two-toned beige and brown kicks) is spot-on.

Mateo Chavez Lewis, Felix LeBlanc, Emma Pedersen, Nick Fontaine, John Bews
[Mateo Chavez Lewis, Felix LeBlanc, Emma Pedersen, Nick Fontaine, John Bews]

Nicol Spinola is also to be praised as the physicality in this production (particularly of Lewis) is an art form in and of itself! To see what he can do at the keys is a stunning feat of agility.

Lighting Designer Ital Erdal artistically adds a colourful, yet natural array of lights during the show as scenes and moods change. I especially enjoyed the moment when big white stage lights come up revealing Hamer’s glitzy performance jackets for each of the four musicians.

Million Dollar Quartet at Arts Club Theatre

Director Bobby Garcia’s father founded the first FM radio station in the Philippines in the 1960’s, so he was naturally excited to be part of this production when the chance came along. A veteran of film, television, stage and live concert entertainment, Garcia has directed over 50 plays and musicals in Canada and throughout Asia.

The musical opened on Broadway in 2010, after several tryouts and regional productions, and spawned a 2011 West End production.

Million Dollar Quartet was nominated for three 2010 Tony Awards: Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical and Best Featured Actor in a Musical for Levi Kreis, who took home the award for Best Featured Actor for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis.

Million Dollar Quartet at Arts Club Theatre

Million Dollar Quartet’s original Canadian cast premiered at the Chemainus Theatre Festival on February 12, 2016.

The show is a delight to watch as evidenced by the audience, who gave the cast a well deserved, rousing standing ovation on opening night.

Come for the music, and stay for the nostalgia and the stories behind the songs! And never forget, “In the end, Rock ‘n’ Roll will save us all.”

Directed by Bobby Garcia, Million Dollar Quartet continues at the Granville Island Stage through August 6.

Photos by Moonrider Productions.

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