On 4th December 1956, one man brought Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley to play together for the first and only time. His name was Sam Phillips, and he would later become known as the father of rock and roll…the place was the legendary Sun Records, the record label responsible for launching the careers of all of the above, as well as those of Howlin’ Wolf, Charlie Rich and Roy Orbison. ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ tells the story of this historic encounter, capturing the friendships, tensions and rivalries between the four singers, all of whom would go on to become musical legends in their own right.
I’ll be honest: I found it a little slow to get going, and the first half in particular is thin on plot, concentrating more on the (fabulous) music of that era and acquainting the audience with the very different personalities on stage before us. The production really takes off in the second half, though, when we start to find out more about the hopes and fears of our protagonists, two of whom are trying to break it to Sam Phillips that they are moving record label and will be leaving behind their mentor and friend.
I particularly liked Martin Kaye, as the cocky, fame-hungry Jerry Lee Lewis – he manages to be both infuriating and loveable, not to mention a brilliant pianist. Martin Kemp, as Sam Phillips, is also good, delivering little asides & anecdotes about his four protégés with an engaging wryness. Gradually, this warm and funny musical drew me in, and by its end it managed to have every member of the normally sedate Royal Festival Hall audience on their feet, singing, dancing and cheering: surely the highest praise possible.