Theater

Review: 'Million Dollar Quartet' provides infectious look at Sun Records greats

Headliners in “Million Dollar Quartet” are Christopher Essex (from left) as Johnny Cash, Nat Whitley as Carl Perkins, Rustin Cole Sailors as Elvis Presley and Nat Zegree as Jerry Lee Lewis.
Headliners in “Million Dollar Quartet” are Christopher Essex (from left) as Johnny Cash, Nat Whitley as Carl Perkins, Rustin Cole Sailors as Elvis Presley and Nat Zegree as Jerry Lee Lewis.

For a person who grew up obsessed with rockabilly music and the artists who created it, the Marriott Theatre’s “Million Dollar Quartet” is a dream come true.

The show provides a peek at the fateful night in December 1956 that Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis jammed together at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records. In short, it’s like stepping into a time machine.

The jukebox musical features legendary songs such as “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Who Do You Love?,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “That’s All Right,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” “Long Tall Sally,” “I Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Hound Dog” and “Whole Lot of Shakin’ Going On,” among others. There is no orchestra – only the legendary artists accompanying themselves on guitar and piano, backed by a tight rhythm section.

Among the players, Christopher J. Essex features a sultry bass voice and a fair amount of mystique as Cash – the man in black. Shaun Whitley displays amazing guitar work as Perkins. And Rustin Cole Sailors is a delight as Presley. Interestingly, while most actors playing Presley try to perfect his sneer, Sailors instead focuses on capturing his infectious smile.

Each of the lead actors captures the look and sound of their famous counterparts. However, it is Nat Zegree as Lewis who fuels the musical. First of all, Zegree, who has been playing piano since age 3, is an even better piano player than Lewis ever was. Zegree plays behind his back and even blindfolded. Add to that the perfect capture of Lewis’ rebellious and slightly conceited characteristics, as well as a gas tank filled with high-octane energy that never takes a break, and Zegree stands out as the audience favorite – for good reason.

The four stars are joined onstage by David Folsom as indie record mogul Phillips, Laura Savage as Dyanne – one of Elvis’ girlfriends – Zach Lentino as bass player Brother Jay and Kieran McCabe as drummer Fluke. They are all quality performers, but Savage stands out with her sexy vocals and liquid hips.

In addition to great music, “Million Dollar Quartet” features a glimpse at the promises, secrets, betrayals and celebrations of Phillips and his recording artists.

The production is directed by James Moye and features music direction by Ryan T. Nelson. The book is by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the latter who also is credited with the original concept and direction. Set design is by Jeffrey D. Kmiec, who takes us to Sun Records circa 1956. Costume design by Theresa Ham is spot on – from Perkins’ blue suede shoes to Cash’s all-black ensemble.

The show is 100 minutes with no intermission, and every minute is worth the price of admission.

“Million Dollar Quartet” is performed at 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays, 4 and 8 p.m. Saturdays and 1 and 5 p.m. Sundays through March 16. Tickets prices range from $50 to $60, excluding tax and handling fees. Student, senior and military discounts are available. Dinner theater packages are available for select Wednesday and Thursday evening performance. The theater, 10 Marriott Drive, Lincolnshire, offers free parking.

• Rikki Lee Travolta has headlined and directed theatrical productions around the country. He has written two novels and a memoir, all revolving around the entertainment world. He currently hosts a weekly musical theater radio program, “It’s Showtime with Rikki Lee,” on 101.5 FM or streaming and podcasts on www.HuntleyRadio.com. Travolta also is the founder of It’s Showtime Theatre of Huntley and continues to serve on its advisory committee. For information, visit www.RikkiLeeTravolta.com.

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