Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Remembering the Million Dollar Quartet

If you love mid-twentieth century rock music, this one's for you. 

Photo courtesy of the Old Log Theatre.
As we head into the lazy days of summer, sometimes we need a break from the heat.

I mean, we're in Minnesota, and we need to take as full advantage of the great weather while we can... but sometimes you can only do so many sweaty 90 degree park tramps until you need a little air conditioning.

Should that be the case, consider heading over to the Old Log Theatre for an extended visit. They're currently running the Million Dollar Quartet, which is a refreshing way to spend roughly an hour and a half. But they also have a fabulous new dining option on-site (Cast & Cru, which can sound spendy unless you take advantage of some of their incredible deals, such as a three-course menu for $20 on Wednesday nights) and gorgeous grounds to wander, so a trip out to the West Surburbs won't be wasted.

I'll admit, it took me quite a while to venture to the Old Log Theatre. Billed as one of the oldest theaters in Minnesota, I should have visited long ago. But I really hate driving, especially in the outer suburban ring, and I avoided it.

Million Dollar Quartet has convinced me that I should break this habit more often. I've seen the show before in a touring production at the Orpheum, and I was curious how it would translate in a smaller and more local setting. The answer is: well.

It's always hard to play iconic characters, and Million Dollar Quartet is full of them. The show tells the (true) story of the one day that Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis all met and played music together at the studio who recruited them, Sun Records. This production is well-cast, with talented musicians playing each character (and their respective instruments) live on stage. Eric Sargent and Eric Morris are particularly good as Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis, respectively. They each have the swagger and distinct stylings of the performers, and they're fun to watch. Matt Tatone jams out hard as Carl Perkins, and Frank Joseph Moran showcases a velvety voice as Elvis.
Photo courtesy of the Old Log Theatre.

Paul Rutledge ties the show together as Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records and the man who discovers each of the performers. Mollie Fischer is a delightful surprise as Elvis' girlfriend Dyanne, the lone female vocalist of the group, with a sultry take on "Fever." It's also worth mentioning that the backup band (featuring Joshua Ackerley on bass, Spencer Shoeneman on drums and Kyle Baker on guitar) are solidly together, and every single piece in this show is performed from memory. With the quick transitions between songs, this is quite a feat, and the ensemble handles the transitions nimbly.

Any fans of music in the 1950s and 1960s era will have a great time in this concert-like show. There are a lot of great piece here, particularly those that are less known but still pack a punch. I personally loved "Riders in the Sky," one of Johnny Cash's first hits, and "Down by the Riverside," which receives a great A Capella treatment. "Peace in the Valley" and the ever-pleasing "Sixteen Tons" are also standouts.
Courtesy of www.elvisechoesofthepast.com.
It's worth noting that if you want a more complicated (or accurate) vision of history, it's not to be found here. Million Dollar Quartet does a good job of making a bunch of very successful and legendarily temperamental white men seem like sympathetic characters, which is a feat in itself. Their treatment of women and the stealing of music/styles/performance tactics from artists of color (particularly black sharecroppers and blues musicians) is mostly glossed over and never confronted, and that's too bad. This show could have been an opportunity to set some records straight and give credit where it was due.

Still, if you're fans of these famous artists it's a good time. This is especially true of Baby Boomers (I took my parents, and they adored it), who rocked out throughout the show. Anyone who grew up, or had an older sibling who grew up in this era or has parents who taught them to love the oldies is likely to have a great time. It's also a great show for those who don't think they can enjoy musicals; with it's concert-like style, Million Dollar Quartet is a good foot in the door for musical newbies. Million Dollar Quartet is a clippy, good stay-cation; make sure you head to the Old Log Theatre and check it out. It runs for the next several months so there is plenty of time to get tickets; learn more by clicking here.