The Tony Award winning musical Million Dollar Quartet is one of Branson’s hottest shows, but how could it possibly have anything to do with being “rock and roll’s greatest Christmas Gift?” For many, and especially so in Branson during its celebration of Ozark Mountain Christmas, the Christmas season includes the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.
It was during that time frame, December 4, 1956 to be exact, when an impromptu, spur of the moment, jam session by four young recording super stars to-be, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, and Johnny Cash, took place inside the Memphis storefront recording studio of Sun Records. It was not intended to be a “gift” or even recorded and except for a single newspaper article in the “Memphis Press-Scimitar,” and its accompanying photo, dubbing the four the “The Million Dollar Quartet” the jam session went virtually unnoticed for decades. Yet, that jam session during the Christmas season of 1956, and the virtual miracle of the preservation of its memory, might very well be rock and roll’s greatest Christmas Gift.
Unbeknownst to the four, the session had been informally recorded and put in the Sun Records library, where it remained, unnoticed for decades. When it was discovered by the new owners of Sun Records and recognized for the true gift to rock and roll history that it was, selected tracks from the recording were released as an album entitled “Million Dollar Quartet” in 1981. That jam session and resulting album became the inspiration for the Tony Award winning musical Million Dollar Quartet, sharing the music, spontaneity, and drama of what took place that 1956 December day when these four legends performed together for their first and only time.
The Branson production of the Million Dollar Quartet weaves an outstanding cast, a great storyline, and timeless music that just about everybody knows, into an amazing entertainment experience that the entire family will enjoy.
The four super stars represented in the lead roles, plus the iconic music being performed, requires some extremely talented entertainers to do it all justice. Cliff Wright as Johnny Cash, Tyler K. Hunter as Elvis Presley, John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis, and Brad Waters as Carl Perkins do an outstanding job with hits including “Matchbox,” “That’s All Right,” “I Walk The Line,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” “Hound Dog,” “Peace in the Valley,” “Whole Lotta Shakin Goin On,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and many more. From among them, two of my personal musical highlights are “Ghost Riders In The Sky,” sung by Johnny Cash| and “Peace in the Valley,” not simply because| of the way it was sung, but how the storyline integrated personal memories from each of the performers seamlessly into its performance. It was a special moment.
Lindsey Perenchio plays the role of “Dyanna.” She does a great job, not only in her role as the girl Elvis was with that night, but in interacting with the four singers and Sam Phillips to add a dramatic element with a hint of romance and “commonsense” to the show. Her vocal performance of “Fever” also demonstrates her considerable vocal talents and is yet another example of how she enhances the shows overall entertainment experience. Daniel Dossey plays the drummer, W.S. Fluke Holland, with Austin Wilson rounding out the cast as Jay Perkins, the bass player and brother of Carl Perkins.
“As amazing as the music is, it’s the storyline, the historical moment it describes that’s so expertly woven into the musical tapestry surrounding it that makes this such an entertaining show. Matt Joyce as Sam Phillips, the founder of Sun Records, the man many call the “Father of rock n’ roll,” and the person who essentially set the circumstances in motion that ultimately lead to the jam session, does an excellent job of telling the story in a manner that ties all its diverse elements together and holds the audience’s interest throughout.
It is a mixture of historical facts and fiction about what happened that day, the relationship between the stars themselves, the mechanics of how the record business worked in those early years, and the very beginning of rock n’ roll history. “This includes the part Sam Phillips played in bringing the four together that day; the answer to the question on everyone’s mind at the time, ‘Why did Phillips sell Elvis Presley’s contract to RCA for $40,000 in 1955?’ the angst Carl Perkins, the old man in the group at age 24, felt towards Elvis Presley over Blue Suede Shoes; why Johnny Cash was leaving Sun Records for Columbia Records; the jealousy some felt regarding the emphasis Phillips had placed on Elvis Presley, and much more. Watching the connection between Jerry Lee Lewis, the not so bashful rookie in the group ,evolve is as interesting as it is entertaining.”
“How a simple recording session by Carl Perkins, with his brother and a drummer, evolved into what is perhaps history’s greatest rock n’ roll jam session, as presented in the Million Dollar Quartet, is as wonderfully entertaining as it was unlikely to have occurred in the first place. From beginning to end its nonstop music, fun, drama, and entertainment with no intermission. Oh, and when you think the show’s over, hold onto your seat and remember the old Yogi Berra saying, “It ain’t over| till it’s over.” We don’t desire to spoil the surprise, so just “Wait for it!” It’s a grand ending to a totally delightful and absolutely entertaining show!”
The Million Dollar Quartet will be performing at the Welk Theatre in Branson for selected dates through December 30. For scheduling information or tickets please contact the Branson Tourism Center, one of Branson’s biggest and most respected vacation planning services, by calling 1-800-785-1550, or going to www.BransonTourismCenter.com.