There's a big old rock 'n' roll party happening at Playhouse Square's Hanna Theatre with "Million Dollar Quartet."

The show in the intimate Hanna, directed by longtime Broadway star Hunter Foster, brings together a stellar cast of actor-musicians who portray young legends Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. The result is some extremely high-quality entertainment.

Inspired by an actual event, the musical re-creates the historic day on Dec. 4, 1956, that this quartet of stars got together for an impromptu jam session at Sun Records, which producer Sam Phillips recorded.

The result is more than a jukebox musical: Phillips has gotten all four of the men into one room because he has a big career decision to make that would affect them all. The producer, played by James Ludwig, also reminisces by taking the audience back to the day he discovered each of these poor, young, southern musicians, whom he calls his boys.

We learn that Lewis, of Louisiana, studied at a Bible institute; Cash, of Arkansas, served in the Air Force; Presley, of Mississippi, was made fun of for being poor; and Perkins, of Tennessee, was a sharecropper who learned to play guitar from a black neighbor.

The show captures a key moment in the infancy of rock 'n' roll, which many people thought wouldn't last.

"Rock 'n' roll ain't a fad. It's a damn revolution!" says Phillips.

Sky Seals is a wonderful Cash stylist and James Barry is a masterful guitarist and vocalist as Perkins. Sean Michael Buckley has all the signature moves and mannerisms as Elvis and Gabe Aronson displays amazing facility and awesome theatrics on piano as the wild Lewis.

I had the perfect vantage point to watch closely as Aronson made huge motions with his right hand, thwacked chords, played with his foot, sat on the keys and even played upside down. This was incredible showmanship.

The score is a string of 24 great tunes, including plenty of rockabilly, gospel, spirituals, R&B and a two very cool mashups as these legendary characters sing in different combos, including solos, duets, trios and quartets.

The show includes hits from all four stars, including Lewis' "Great Balls of Fire," Perkins' "Blue Suede Shoes," Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and Presley's "That's All Right." Kristen Beth Williams is the only female in the show, playing Presley's girlfriend Dyanne. She gets her share of sexy, sultry solos with the R&B treats "Fever" and "I Hear You Knocking."

In addition to all the great music-making, this show has some angst-ridden storylines. In a wonderfully sentimental moment, the four rock legends gather around the piano, re-creating a famous photo from that historic day. After a big flash of a camera, in the next breathtaking moment, we see the actual archival photo projected above. What struck me the most was how sweet and boyish Presley looked.

"Million Dollar Quartet's" sound design by Bart Fasbender is exceptional, with perfectly amplified instrumentals that don't overpower the vocals. A five-song mini concert at the end of this show is also a blast, including some fun-loving audience involvement.

 

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or kclawson@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.