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Story by Andy Argyrakis
Though it might not stick out in everyone outside an aficionados memory, December 4, 1956 was the faithful day when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins met at Sun's studios in Memphis with label mastermind Sam Phillips (the man who also kick started all four of their careers). "Million Dollar Quartet" certainly plays off each of those larger than life personalities, but beyond a single artist, their temperaments or recording contacts that didn't continue, the show signals this sessions' significance in the history of rock n' roll.
Rather than a straight forward play, the show plays more like an intimate concert (sort of like sitting in on one of PBS' "Soundstage" specials) during which the players take turns revisiting one another's top hits and jamming throughout a series of cover songs that made them famous. For those who lived through the period firsthand, it's a remarkable snapshot resurrected (and yes, a photograph of that real life evening is shown on a screen at the end), while simultaneously serving as a monumental history lesson for younger audiences.
The set list is stacked with back to back smashes and all are recreated with exceptional accuracy, though several standout, if only for their iconic nature. "Blue Suede Shoes" may have been claimed by Presley, but he clearly pulled from several other sources including those in the room (like original writer Perkins, who isn't exactly keen on not always getting the credit, but acts chummy with the future King nonetheless). The same can be said about the Lewis piano-pounders "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta' Shakin' Goin' On," which united this core foursome under the commonality of soulful roots, alongside the Perkins-perfected "Matchbox" and the country-infused Cash classic "(Ghost) Riders In the Sky."
Obviously Presley had the most significant mainstream reach, followed by Cash's country crossover, but "Million Dollar Quartet" isn't about picking a champion, dwelling on sales figures or posthumous legacies. It's simply a moving document of a once in a lifetime collaboration that's perhaps even more extraordinary in hindsight considering that little storefront studio was once filled with four musicians who literally changed the musical world forever.
"Million Dollar Quartet" runs through Sunday, October 26 in the Owen Theatre at Goodman Theatre and moves to the Apollo Theater beginning Friday, October 31 with tickets currently on sale through January 4, 2009. For additional information, visit www.goodmantheatre.org and www.apollochicago.com.
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