PCPA’s summer musical shows the birth of rock’n’roll
THE MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
When: June 20 – 29, 2019 (Santa Maria), July 5 – 28 (Solvang)
Where: Marian Theatre, 870 S. Bradley Rd., Santa Maria; Solvang Festival Theater
420 2nd St. Solvang
Cost: $38 – $50
Information: (805) 922-8313 or www.pcpa.org
With four rock’n’roll legends sharing the stage, over 20 well known hits, PCPA’s “Million Dollar Quartet” is one “jukebox musical” that really earns its name. The jam session between Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis really did happen–December 4, 1956, at Sam Phillips’ Sun Records Studios, Memphis, Tennessee to be exact–but like many a showbiz tale, liberties have been taken. And it doesn’t matter. When the music starts up young and old alike will want to believe this version of history.
“RCA used to wait till an act would become popular and then snatch them up,” explains director Kitty Balay. “Elvis had already gone to RCA, but was back in town to see his girlfriend and parents…Jerry Lee Lewis was new to the label and two weeks later would have his first record in the charts. That’s how fast Sam Phillips worked.
In reality, Carl Perkins was at the studio to record, and Jerry Lee Lewis, who was at that time only a Memphis star, was going to play piano on the session. And Johnny Cash had stopped by to watch Perkins record. The jam session, caught on tape by an engineer, was a selection of gospel songs from the four men’s youth, Christmas songs (twas the season after all), some Presley songs, a couple of Chuck Berry numbers, a blues tune or two, and ended with a Gene Autry song.
“The Million Dollar Quartet” however, is a journey through a discography that changed world culture: “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “That’s All right”, “Long Tall Sally”, “I Walk the Line” and so many more.
Balay has directed a similar musical before based on the music of Patsy Cline. “I know how dynamic and exciting and moving it can be for an audience,” she says. “Especially for someone who grew up with it. They hear the music and they remember how it felt when they first heard it.”
Casting the play was all about finding the right people, with the right voice, but who weren’t going to bring something like a Las Vegas Elvis impression to the audition.
For this production she has assembled quite a cast: Jerry Lee Lewis is played by Billy Rude, who has already played the rocker on a national tour of this musical; Carl Perkins is played by Christopher Wren, who also did a national tour stint as the rocker; Bill Scott Sheets has played Johnny Cash in several musicals dedicated to the man, including this one; and Nick Voss plays Elvis, and not for the first time.
“This isn’t about imitation, it’s about embodying the spirit and style of it, so you feel that it’s fresh, that it’s happening right in front of you,” Balay says. “They’ve all played these parts but in other productions, and this is the first time performing together.”
The cast is completed with Scott Fuss as Sam Phillips, Charlotte Campbell as Dyanne, James Gallardo as Jay Perkins, and Robert Brandon as W.S. “Fluke” Holland.
While there is some conflict among the musicians, and between Phillips and the larger companies that look poised to take his stars, it is mostly a fun ride.
“The music-making is the star of the show,” Balay says. “You see how much it helps overcome the poverty that they grew up in. It’s the joy of playing music together that really skyrockets the whole evening.”