It was a different time. The year was 1956. On the night of December 4, recording impresario Sam Phillips brought together Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash at his Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Austinites have two ways to transport themselves back in time to such recording session this season–by listening to the actual session tapes or by checking out ZACH Theatre’s “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Topfer Stage. If you’re looking for a visual, interactive and energizing experience, then ZACH Theatre’s production is the right choice for you (anyone can stream the recording year-round!).
Written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, the jukebox musical is inspired by the “Million Dollar Quartet” recording session. When Carl Perkins (writer of rockabilly classic “Blue Suede Shoes”) is to record new songs with Jerry Lee Lewis (“Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On), Elvis Presley and his girlfriend and singer Dyanne (Emily Farr) stop by and join the session. Johnny Cash is summoned to the reunion by Phillips (Jeff Jeffers), who is looking to re-sign Cash to a new three-year contract. The evening gets the audience moving with rock-and-roll classics such as “That’s Alright Mama,” “I Walk the Line,” and “Great Balls of Fire.” The impressive music interpretations by Presley (Cole), Lewis (Gavin Rohrer), Perkins (Billy Cohen) and Cash (Corbin Mayer) are especially distinguishable as they all dance, sing and play their own instrument. Cole’s vocal and dancing abilities accomplish Elvis’ signature magnetic persona. Rohrer steals the show with a brilliant touch of eccentricity and humor, coupled with excellent piano-playing and vocal skills. Billy Cohen seamlessly works his electric guitar on “Matchbox” and “Who Do You Love.” Corbin Mayer’s deep baritone vocal range will blow your blues away on “Folsom Prison Blues.” Farr’s powerful performance (with solos “Fever” and “I Hear You Knockin'”) saves Dyanne’s character from falling into redundancy. Sam Phillips, the man who discovered all four rock-and-roll artists, and then more, plays a pivotal role as the narrator. Jeff Jeffers keeps the act together just like you would expect the real Phillips to have done it in 1956.
The band is completed by Adam Egizi, who plays Brother Jay, on upright bass and Zachary Yanez, portraying Fluke, on drums. The exceptional cast, under Dave Steakley’s direction and Allen Robertson’s musical direction, does a remarkable job at recreating a special moment in music history in melancholic yet exhilarating ways. As we remember the King’s long-lasting impact on rock and roll 40 years after his death, “Million Dollar Quartet” is a highly recommended show, running through Sunday, Sep. 3. Get your tickets at zachtheater.org.