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Center Stage: ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at Florida Rep a rockin’ good time

By Staff | Apr 9, 2019

Marsha Wagner

Now hear this! “Million Dollar Quartet,” a juke box musical, is knocking the socks off of the audiences at the Florida Repertory Theatre. So be prepared to rock ‘n’ roll hard enough to shake your soul.

Just in case you don’t know the backstory of the show, it’s a fable based somewhat loosely on fact. It’s Dec. 4, 1956, the place is Memphis, Tennessee, in the Sun Records Recording Studio. This is the night when Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis met for a jam-session-turned-recording-session at the request of owner Sam Phillips (Brendan Powers), a musical recording-production genius and “The Man” who recognized and jump started these four music giants’ careers.

What I loved about this production was Powers’ dramatic portrayal of Phillips, owner-operator of Sun Records. Sure enough, Phillips discovered this amazing quartet and then went on to produce their first hit records. But, Powers did just what his name says, gave “power” not only to the four artists in this play but also gave “power” to what is usually considered the mostly one-dimensional character of Phillips. This fine interpretation put the actor in the spotlight along with the four heavy hitters. This was literally and figuratively a brilliant move by Director Jason Parrish and Powers. Which is also not to say that the four leading characters didn’t make the most of their starring roles, not by a long shot.

“Million Dollar Quartet” is filled with great country, rockabilly and gospel music; so, you’ll hear tunes like “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” “Who Do You Love,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Brown Eyed Handsome Man,” “Down By the Riverside,” “See You Later Alligator” and “I Hear You Knockin, to mention but a few. Plus, the “fab four” sing many of their own individual hits. I can’t say enough about the musicality of this production. The guitar riffs from these actor-singer-musicians is nothing short of breathtaking; to say nothing of the piano skills of Brady Wease (Jerry Lee Lewis), bass player Daniel Bailey (Brother Jay) and David Sonneborn (drummer/fluke) – all are top of the line. And while all the guys are aces in this jukebox musical, I’d be remiss if I did not acknowledge the one female lead. Performing as Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne, Julie Kavanagh plays it to the hilt, especially while singing and rockin’ Peggy Lee’s hit “Fever,” and then blastin’ “I Hear You Knockin.”

The four guys not only have great voices and the musical chops for playing their guitars, they also have the dance moves down pat. I especially liked way Jeremy Sevelovitz portrayed his somewhat edgy character Carl Perkins, giving him a very three-dimensional acting interpretation that could have fallen flat in lessor hands. Joe Boover not only nailed Elvis’ hip swivels and knee twitches, he knocked it out of the park vocally. Gregg Hammer had Johnny Cash’s deep voice, while he strummed a mean guitar. Wease’s wild child antics as Jerry Lee Lewis were off the charts. He literally bounced all over the piano as well as all over the stage. Jerry Lee Lewis was famous for playing the piano upside down, backward, forward, sideways, sitting, standing and every which-a-ways, which Wease nailed and then some. You couldn’t have asked for better than this fine cast of top-notch performers.

So, if you’re up for a hot time in the old town of Fort Myers at the Arcade Theater, then Florida Rep’s production of “Million Dollar Quartet” is your ticket to ride. So, hop on the bus Gus and start by calling the box office at 239-332-4488 now. The show is playing till April 21 and word of mouth is out already and selling out fast. When you phone, remind ’em Marsha sent you.