Editor’s Note: With the news that the Million Dollar Quartet will begin a residency at Harrah’s in February, we take a look back at a review from the touring version of the show that stopped by The Smith Center during the summer.
The historical Million Dollar Quartet did not play the hits. When Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis came together for one fateful recording session in 1956, the once-in-a-lifetime supergroup mainly stuck to old-fashioned country and gospel songs. The result is naturally incredible … but not quite adapted to modern ears. So, when that Sun Records session became a musical in 2006, the playlist got an update. Not to blaspheme the greats, but the new results are (almost) equally incredible, and they include our favorite songs: “Folsom Prison Blues,” “That’s All Right,” “Long Tall Sally,” “I Walk the Line” and “Hound Dog.”’
The touring version of Million Dollar Quartet stopped at The Smith Center last week, and it was special enough to generate rumors of a potential Strip residency. The music, the show’s unequivocal star, was concert-quality. The performers—as an opening announcement gently alerted the audience—expertly sang and played their own instruments. And songs that have been overplayed to the point of cliché (“Great Balls of Fire” et al) now have a new life.
Unlike similar jukebox musical Jersey Boys, this show only has a snapshot of a plot. It’s a moment in time stretched out to include a few backstory-filled flashbacks and a generous sprinkling of easy—and sometimes cheesy—jokes (example: Elvis saying that he would never play Las Vegas again).
The show seems to be a metaphor for the melancholy transition to modernity. Gospel songs compete with the hits. A warm, inviting set displays now-quaint mechanical recording equipment. Elvis talks about bringing his girlfriend to meet his mom. And a small studio struggles to survive in the emerging big-time music industry. Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, the show’s narrator, has already sold Elvis’ contract to RCA Records to keep his operation afloat. Now he’s facing the loss of his other signees to larger recording studios, all the while deciding whether he should sell himself to RCA. Modernity wins, of course. But a rock-star encore, where glitter suit jackets descend from the ceiling, proves that even selling out can be fun. ★★★★☆