James Scheider, Nile Scott Hawver, Luke Linsteadt and Austin Wayne Price in "Million Dollar Quartet" at the Greater Boston Stage Company through May 18. Source: Maggie Hall Photography

Million Dollar Quartet

Ed Tapper READ TIME: 3 MIN.

The Greater Boston Stage Company is currently presenting another musical at the Stoneham Theatre – the rollicking, Rock n' Roll romp "Million Dollar Quartet," which has played with great success to audiences on Broadway, and throughout the U.S. and Canada. It is a dramatization of an actual, historical happening: the December 4, 1956 chance meeting of four legendary pop music icons – Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis. They converged at the Memphis, Tennessee studio and the musical chronicles their meeting, and famous recording session together.

The show is narrated by the character of Sam Phillips, the Sun impresario who gave the four their first recording contracts. But he's slowly losing his artists. Elvis, who comes to the session with an attractive girlfriend (who also sings), has already left Sun for RCA Victor; and Perkins and Cash reveal to the producer their intention to accept a contract with Columbia Records. This leaves Phillips to work through his feelings of betrayal. He ultimately does, and looks forward to the future, and recording brand new talents.

The short stretches of dialogue are interspersed with songs performed by the singers, in keeping with the style of the original recording session. Though some of the tunes did appear in the actual session, many others were added into the musical. As a finale, the set pulled apart, and, amid a blaze of colored lights, the cast reemerged to perform the best-known hits of the four, phenomenal entertainers.

Casting "Million Dollar Quartet" is no simple task, as the four key roles require not just look-alikes, but virtuoso musicians who can act as well. GBSC came through on every count, assembling a lively, supremely talented cast who mastered every nuance, and put across all the songs in grand style. With expert, and highly energetic direction by Ilyse Robbins, a nifty set of the Sun Records studio by Patrick Lynch, and outstanding lighting effects by Jeff Adelberg, "Million Dollar Quartet" proved a real winner.

James Scheider served as music director, while also performing the role of Jerry Lee Lewis. Not only did he look the part of the young R&B legend, but he had painstakingly honed down his impersonation, singing and acting the part to near perfection. Most astounding was his piano playing, as he negotiated all the pianistic pyrotechnics and acrobatics for which Lewis was known. Although it is tough to fill those Blue Suede Shoes, Luke Linsteadt made a fine Elvis. His warm baritone approximated that of the "King," and all of his gyrations were right on the money.

From certain angles, Austin Price bore a closer resemblance to Presley, especially with his shiny, black slick-back. However, his mellow bass-baritone better qualifies him for the role of Johnny Cash, one he has performed before in several productions. And he excelled in it. The audience was treated to Price's renderings of a handful of Cash favorites, including "I Walk the Line." A terrific guitarist, harmonica player and singer, Nile Scott Hawver dazzled as Carl Perkins, an important figure in early Rock, and one of the originators of Rockabilly style.

As Presley's girlfriend Dyanne, Melissa Geerlof was a delight, acting and singing the role quite well. Among the songs woven into the score for the character was Peggy Lee's hit "Fever," and Geerlof's sultry interpretation proved a highlight. With his keen comic timing and fine diction, Robert Saoud excelled in the non-singing role of Sam Phillips.

GBSC's production of "Million Dollar Quartet" will be running until May 18 at the Stoneham Theatre. Don't miss it, particularly if you a big fan of early Rock n' Roll; and if you are not, check it out anyway – you soon will be.

"Million Dollar Quartet," presented by the Greater Boston Stage Company, continues through May 18 at the Stoneham Theatre, 395 Main Street, Stoneham, MA. For more information, visit the Greater Boston Stage Company website.

by Ed Tapper

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