Have you heard the news? There’s “Good Rockin’ Tonight,” over at Florida Studio Theatre’s Gompertz, where Million Dollar Quartet is holding sway.
Yes, it’s flashback time to Dec. 4, 1956, and a moment in rock ‘n’ roll history that was never duplicated: a night when Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis all jammed together, at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records Studios in Memphis.
Sounds too good to be true, perhaps, but it really did happen, if perhaps not exactly the way show creators Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott convey it. You can’t be a stickler for chronology about what famous hit came out when, but who cares when you can hear the talented musicians in this cast sing and play songs including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Matchbox,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Folsom Prison Blues”?
Those and many others are performed by the highly energetic cast under the direction of Jason Cannon and music director Darren Server. Joe Boover is the kinda shy, humble young Elvis; Joe Casey the deep-voiced, strong-jawed Johnny Cash; Ben Williams the king of rockabilly, Carl Perkins; and Brandyn Day the cocky upstart Jerry Lee (and he really can imitate some of Lewis’ famous keyboard stunts). They’re joined onstage by Hunter Brown and Kroy Presley, playing drums and bass, respectively (Presley’s character is Perkins’ brother Jay), and by a fictionalized version of a young woman who accompanied Elvis to the studio that night (Michelle Pruiett).
But none of them would have been there if not for Sam Phillips (Joe Ditmyer), the man who founded the studio and can be said to have recorded the first true rock ‘n’ roll song. On this December date in history, he’s already reluctantly let Elvis go to RCA, hoping to find a new star with Jerry Lee at the same time he re-signs Cash and finds a follow-up hit to “Blue Suede Shoes” for Perkins. But finances aside, there’s no denying the joy he gets from producing the music he loves.
While Million Dollar Quartet is packed with songs and offers some nice moves by Boover and Pruiett, it’s not long on story. We get enough of it to know where these legends all came from (desperately poor rural backgrounds, for the most part), what their relationships with each other are like (some rivalries friendlier than others), and to appreciate just how these very young men—kids, really—earned their places at the beginning of a music era.
I had only one problem with the production; the night I attended, the sound mix sometimes had the instruments overwhelming the song lyrics. If that can be avoided, the audience will enjoy hearing all those great songs even more.
Million Dollar Quartet is slated to play through Jan. 1, although I’d bet the run will be extended. For tickets, call 366-9000 or go to floridastudiotheatre.org.