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?Million Dollar Quartet? an amazing glimpse into music history

| Thursday, Nov. 3, 2011

"Million Dollar Quartet" definitely is the perfect fly-on-the-wall experience for those who would have loved to have occupied the same space and time as Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis for one amazing evening in December 1956.

Without benefit of a working time machine nor a slingshot effect around the sun a la Star Trek, the musical playing at the Benedum Center through Sunday is the best bet for imaging what it would have been like to breathe the same air as those talented gentlemen.

I've been to tribute band concerts, several "Rat Pack" concerts and shows, but nothing compares to this experience. If you close your eyes, you'll feel like you're right there in the room with these legendary performers and Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, who discovered each of them and launched their careers.

What's even more amazing, the jam session depicted actually occurred, with a famous photograph and some audio from that historic night.

Careful casting was essential to make the show work, because the actors not only have to sing through 23 musical numbers, they all have to excel in playing their own instruments " three guitars and a piano " backed up by Chuck Zayas as bass player Jay Perkins and Billy Shaffer as Fluke on drums.

Musical numbers include "Blue Suede Shoes," Folsom Prison Blues," "Long Tall Sally" and "Great Balls of Fire."

Just so everyone was on the same page, it was made quite clear to the audience at the beginning of Tuesday's opening night show that the playing was in real time.

Derek Keeling as Johnny Cash might be the only performer some may recognize for his role on the 2007 reality TV show "Grease: You're the One That I Want" as he competed for the role of Danny Zuko in a Broadway revival of "Grease" produced and directed by Pittsburgh native Kathleen Marshall.

That exposure to Keeling could not begin to prepare someone to hear him as the Man in Black. He talked the talk, walked the walk, and an incredible booming bass-baritone was the result. Close your eyes and you'll swear you hear Johnny Cash.

Cody Slaughter oozes Elvis, with his looks, gyrations and vocalizations appropriate to the King in 1956 " and a delight to the eye and ear. According to his bio, Slaughter hails from Harrison, Ark., and was named Elvis Presley Enterprises' Ultimate Elvis Tribute artist of 2011. Lucky for the audience, he is making his theater debut in the role.

Lee Ferris also is making his national touring debut in the role of Carl Perkins, the first of the quartet to make an appearance onstage. He does a great job all around and is essential to make sure the four main characters gel throughout the non-intermission show.

Martin Kaye is a sight to behold as Jerry Lee Lewis. He's got Lewis' mannerisms down pat, including the incredible energy Lewis is famous for as he appears to bang away at the keyboard, constantly bouncing up and down on the piano bench " or standing up, or reaching behind his back. He also provides lots of comic relief and blends perfectly with the rest of the gang.

Christopher Ryan Grant is the glue that keeps the whole show connected in a mostly narrator role as Phillips. He also plays a mean harmonica!

Lending a decidedly feminine touch is Kelly Lamont as Dyanne, who shows up at the studio with Elvis. Although identified as his girlfriend, Elvis makes it clear she's a great singer on her own.

Fans of musicals and any of the singers/musicians depicted should add "Million Dollar Quartet" to their must-see list.

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