On December 4, 1956, in the Memphis storefront recording studio of Sun Records, one of the greatest jam sessions in rock n’ roll history took place. It was an impromptu gathering of four young recording artists who were soon to become legends; Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, and Jerry Lee Lewis. Although all went on to achieve legendary status, it’s the only time they’d ever perform together. Branson’s Million Dollar Quartet recreates that special moment in a unique awesome fun filled musical production for the whole family to enjoy.
Except for one newspaper article the day after the jam session, headlined “The Million Dollar Quartet,” and its accompanying picture, the jam session went largely unnoticed. It was so impromptu and unnoticed that even the “Father of Rock N’ Roll,” Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, didn’t know it had been recorded. The recordings languished in the “Sun Records Catalog” for decades. When new owners of Sun Records discovered the “lost recordings,” they released 17 tracks from them in an album entitled, “The Million Dollar Quartet.”
That jam session, and those recordings, are the foundation and inspiration for the Tony Award winning musical, Million Dollar Quartet. The show combines timeless music that everyone knows, a great storyline, and an outstanding cast with great production and a unique set to create an incredible entertainment experience.
Most musicals feature music written specifically for that show. The music in the Million Dollar Quartet is a part of music history, sung by four music legends at the start of their careers. This needs a great cast to recreate that special moment and do it justice. The Million Dollar Quartet, both musically and dramatically, has the perfect cast to do just that!
Tyler K. Hunter as Elvis Presley, Cliff Wright as Johnny Cash, John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis, and Brad Waters as Carl Perkins, do a wonderful job of sharing the music and excitement of that night. They perform hit classics such “Great Balls of Fire,” “I’ll Walk the Line,” “Riders in the Sky,” “Hound Dog,” “Peace in the Valley,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and many more. Watching them perform, in the show’s elaborate Sun Records Studio set, I felt, even if only for a moment, that I was getting a personal glimpse of what they actually shared together that night. It was awesome!
Sarah Tweedle as Dyanna, the girl accompanying Elvis, adds to the musical repertoire of the jam session with delightful performances of “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking.” She’s also part of the vocal back up in many numbers. One of my personal favorite parts of the show is her part in the back up for “Riders in the Sky.” It’s a WOW moment, but you must look for it. Daniel Dossey, playing W.S. “Fluke” Holland, the drummer, and Austin Wilson, as Jay Perkins, the bass player, who was the brother of Carl Perkins, round out the musical cast.
Three of my personal favorite musical highlights were “Peace in the Valley,” “[Ghost] Riders in the Sky,” and “Fever.” The cast performance of “Peace in the Valley” was as inspirational as it was beautiful. The storyline personalizing each of their involvement in the performance makes it a special moment. “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” was a hauntingly powerful performance by Johnny Cash. It’s made even more enjoyable by the performance of the backup singers. Sarah Tweedle’s sultry performance of “Fever” was a joy to hear as it introduces a new vocal element to the music of the jam session.
Besides the great music, there’s an interesting storyline artfully woven into and around the shows music. Matt Joyce plays the role of Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, the “Father of rock n’ roll,” and the person who set the circumstances in motion that resulted in the jam session. He does an excellent job of telling the story, and tying it together in a manner that keeps the audience’s rapt attention throughout. Dyanna’s interaction with Sam Phillips, Elvis, and the other three legends, adds another entertaining dimension to the story’s drama and impact.
It’s a story based on historical facts about what happened that day, and more. It shares not only what happened that day, but insight to the lives of the artists involved, their personal relationships, how the record industry worked, and the early history of rock n’ roll. But, it’s also a personal story with potential romance, competition, jealousy, expectation, disappointment, and hope.
The story of the greatest rock n’ roll jam session of all time presented in the Million Dollar Quartet is great entertainment that the whole family will enjoy. It’s nonstop music, energy, fun, and enjoyment from beginning to end.
And in speaking of the show’s “ending;” it’s a good idea to remember the advice of Yogi Berra when he said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.” I don’t want to spoil the surprise, but, paraphrasing Yogi, “It ain’t over till after the coats fall.” It’s a spectacular finale to a wonderful entertainment experience that’s unlike anything else in Branson.
For additional information or tickets for Million Dollar Quartet please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s largest and most respected vacation planning services, by calling 1-800-785-1550, or by visiting www.BransonTourismCenter.com.