MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET at the Cheltenham Everyman

Million Dollar Quartet is a spirited rockabilly musical, depicting an auspicious spontaneous jam session. At the Sun Records studio in 1956 where they were all discovered, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis all found themselves playing together for the first and only time. It’s an excuse to indulge in a greatest hits soundtrack with skilled musical actors impersonating the biggest names of the period.

Blue Peter alumnus Peter Duncan plays Sam Phillips, manager and propriety of Sun Records, the man who discovered all these big names and who helped carve out the emerging Rock and Roll scene in the 50s. The narrative, slight though it may be, uses Phillips as the framing device for the jam session. He is being wooed by bigger record companies whilst his major stars are at risk of being poached, and still trying to discover the next big thing. Arguably the show could suffice as a free-wheeling musical tribute act but Duncan’s Phillips character does a great deal to provide context of where these singers came from and where they were headed. Though the musical numbers are the main draw, Duncan is great at building a rapport with the audience.

And on the musical front, I think fans of the era will be satisfied. The actors are skilled not only at the vocal impersonations of these singers – and playing the instruments too – but also emulating the mannerisms and gaits. They all give strong performances but there is one standout of note. Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis is an exuberant stage presence. In dramatic terms, his Lewis also gets some of the best zingers and drives a lot of the characterful interactions in between the musical numbers. He has certainly earned his showboating applause by the end.    ★★★★☆   Fenton Coulthurst   3rd October 2017