Million Dollar Quartet Hits Musical Jackpot but Defaults on Story

mdq-national-tour-cast-credit-joan-marcus.jpgMonster music, minor musical.

Anyone who could resist Million Dollar Quartet’s tsunami of sound—a hits blitz from the catalogs of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash—needs a hearing test. Then a brain scan. However, given that the best musicals—even juke-boxers—invest in a solid plot rather than this one’s quickie, inconsequential conflict, Harrah’s new resident production would be better labeled a superior tribute show.

Vegas being Tribute Central means Quartet still fits in snugly.

Set in 1956, this ex-Broadway show—whose tour version played The Smith Center last year—tells the true tale of how Sun Records founder Sam Phillips united the fresh-faced foursome at his Memphis storefront studio. As they amble in, Phillips (energetic Marc Donovan, full of record-exec hustle) narrates their backstories as they play bits of their hits. Choppy, but it gets the job done. Jamming, joking and needling each other—particularly Perkins, exasperated by brash newcomer Lewis—the boys are at career crossroads.

While Cash and Perkins are grateful to Phillips for launching them, they’re hiding that they’ll sign with Columbia Records when their Sun contracts expire. Presley, fresh off his Ed Sullivan Show triumph, wants to return to the Sun fold after Phillips reluctantly sold his contract to RCA to keep Sun breathing. Angling to impress everyone is Lewis, a boastful, self-impressed piano-pounder.

You’ll wait 75 minutes in an 85-minute show before any of that gets some fleeting dramatic traction, and its resolution amounts to a shrug. What’s left? What you came for—the characterizations of legends and their music.

Every song’s a time-traveling blast. Partial set list: “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog,” “See You Later Alligator,” “That’s All Right,” “Ring of Fire,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” All set aflame by actors wailing away themselves, backed by a bassist and drummer.

Lip-curled and lacquer-haired, Tyler Hunter—eschewing over-the-top, Vegas-y mannerisms—does a solid Elvis, though physically he’s more filled out than the sleek, hip-swiveling ’50s version. Laconic and barrel-toned, Benjamin Hale offers a dead-on approximation of Cash, including aiming his guitar like a rifle, though he sometimes dips shakily below Cash’s floor-scraping baritone (yes, it’s possible). Pulling off the tougher task of embodying Perkins, who’s less fixed in the public consciousness, Robert Britton Lyons bristles with rock ’n’ roll swagger and a mischievous glare. Wielding demonic energy, Martin Kaye entertainingly swallows the scenery as Lewis, though he doesn’t quite match the bigness of the original’s stage presence.

Maximizing a minimal role as Elvis’ gal pal, voluptuous Felice Garcia contributes a couple of songs, including a purring, Peggy Lee-like “Fever.”

Even if the story isn’t worth a nickel, Million Dollar Quartet’s music is worth every penny.

STRIP POSTSCRIPT: Cirque du Soleil and Mandalay Bay gave their new Jacko show—previews begin May 23—a name. Everyone, meet Michael Jackson ONE. Meanwhile, Peepshow re-signed star Coco Austin and her mammoth mammaries to a contract extension through July 28. Suggestion: Rechristen it Coco Austin TWO.

Ever perform in a band worth a million bucks? Or was yours called the $2.79 Trio? Tell us your old band names in the comments.

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Rodney Carrington MGM Grand Hollywood Theater, 9 p.m. March 7-13 and June 6-11, $70-$90, 891-7777,