Imagine the greatest musical icons of a generation coming together to create magic.
It’s a good description of Million Dollar Quartet, a performance running from Feb. 12 to March 26 at the Chemainus Theatre, which traces the moment Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins converged together to record on Dec. 4, 1956.
“It’s a compelling story and compelling music,” said Director Mark DuMez. “I’m actually kind of gobsmacked by the kind of talent that our players have, but also how it reflects the talent of those four individuals who gathered in Memphis in 1956.”
Million Dollar Quartet tells the true story of how Cash, Lewis, Presley and Perkins ended up in Memphis in 1956 playing music together. This first and only red-hot jam session led to the creation of many fan favourites, including Blue Suede Shoes, Fever, Great Balls of Fire, Walk the Line, Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On, Hound Dog and more.
“It takes the original event and asks ‘what if?’ It kind of plays and expands what might have happened between the takes. There’s actually a nice story inside of it as well; it’s not just music,” DuMez said of the two-hour show.
It also takes a look at music business great Sam Phillips and his connection to all the stars.
“You get this great story of Sam Philips and his rise and the meeting of all these guys, and then their contractual stuff that’s coming up on that day,” DuMez explained.
The show also includes the character of Diane, Presley’s new girlfriend who he is taking to visit his family when he swings by the studio, a bass player and drummer who are based on Perkin’s brother, and Fluke, who used to drum for Cash.
DuMez said the theatre has been looking at putting on Million Dollar Quartet for several years and did pre-preparation all through 2015 before starting rehearsals in January of this year.
“There’s the pre-production phase and then there’s the rehearsal phase where all the actors and musicians come together,” DuMez explained, adding that the cast comes from across Canada as well as locally from Vancouver Island. “It’s an amalgam of really great, talented people.”
The show interweaves the story with a lot of music, all played live by the actors and actresses, who are also talented musicians.
“We go through a lot of the standards that these guys sang as they laid down tracks for Sam Phillips and then in between the takes you get a little bit of the drama of how their relationship with each other and Phillips evolved over their time together,” DuMez said. “Then you also get flashbacks as to how Phillips found them, when they were first discovered,” he added.
DuMez said perfecting clean transitions between the music and drama has been one key to making this a superb show.
“It’s also working with the actor to make them understand the stakes involved in the scene work as well as the story involved in the song,” DuMez said. “We’ve brought in a dialect coach, we’ve brought in a movement coach. So we’re trying to find lots of ways to support their work as these guys who were so much bigger than life but were also real people.”
Million Dollar Quartet is a chance to get a look at a once-in-a-generation musical collaboration that will always live on for fans, then and now.
“It really was a unique event and it was never repeated with those stars,” DuMez said. “The music is phenomenal, they’re all so skilled. I haven’t seen anyone move as fast on the keys as Monty (Montgomery Björnson) is doing with Jerry Lee, and Daniel Kosub’s killing the Perkins licks. And the sound when these guys get together is just really tight.”
DuMez noted that as Million Dollar Quartet comes off Broadway, with performance rights only starting to be granted this year, Chemainus will be one of the first to produce it.
“I know tickets are moving fast,” he said. “We’re one of the first to be able to produce it since it’s come off its Broadway run and tour, so I would recommend you get in sooner rather than later, because I think the show’s going to have a lot of hop.”
For tickets call the Chemainus Theatre at 1-800-565-7738 or visit their website at www.chemainustheatrefestival.ca.