‘Million Dollar Quartet’ at The Kennedy Center by Derek Mong

Million Dollar Quartet is back! After having performed a run here in Washington earlier this year, the remarkable quartet of the celebrated Elvis Presley (Tyler Hunter), Johnny Cash (Scott Moreau), Jerry Lee Lewis (John Countryman), and Carl Perkins (James Barry) are back in the nation’s capital once again—back by popular demand until October 6th!

John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis. Photo by Kelly Phillips.
John Countryman as Jerry Lee Lewis. Photo by Kelly Phillips.

Billed as a musical inspired by the true story of the famed recording session where Sam Phillips (Vince Nappo)—the “Father of Rock ‘n’ Roll,”—brought together Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins for the one-night-only jam session, Million Dollar Quartet takes place on December 4, 1956, when these four young musicians gathered at Sun Records in Memphis for the first and only time. Together, they united to make Rock ‘n’ Roll history with an impromptu jam session that would live on in infamy. Even for those not too familiar with their story, the charismatic Vince Nappo delivers a charming and authentic portrayal of Sam Phillips, masterfully narrating the story from beginning to end for some of the younger audience members.

The Million Dollar Quartet is true to its name, bringing the house down Thursday night at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts’ Eisenhower Theater, jamming to a score of rock hits including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That’s All Right,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Walk the Line,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Who Do You Love?,” “Matchbox,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Hound Dog” and many, many more.

The show opened with the entire company playing one of the most iconic pieces of the evening, “Blue Suede Shoes,” then spotlighted the individual talents of each member of the quartet before reuniting for the finale.

John Countryman played a believable, over-the-top Jerry Lee Lewis—perfect balancing Lewis’ youthful naiveté and overzealousness with sincere ambition; not to mention, Countryman’s piano skills are top-notch. His performance of “Real Wild Child,” his first solo performance of the evening, showed how easily his fingers glided across the keys while belting out the tricky, bluesy syncopation of the verses.

James Barry as Carl Perkins similarly delivered a rousing performance with his electrifying guitar solos in “Who Do You Love?” and “Matchbox,” not to be out-done by the captivating Scott Moreau as Johnny Cash with his deep, booming voice in “Folsom Prison Blues,“ and “I Walk the Line.“

Tyler Hunter’s experience impersonating Elvis Presley shines through in his performance, tackling major hits including “Hound Dog,” “Peace In The Valley,” and “Long Tall Sally” with a certain suaveness and finesse that made you believe you were at an Elvis concert. Elvis’ love interest, Dyanne, captivated the audience in her sultry performance of “Fever,” providing the first down-tempo song that provided an unexpected, but necessary, break in the animated performance.

While most of the performance is lit like a fluid mix between a Broadway musical and a rock concert, with superb lighting design by Howell Binkley, the set itself is pretty static, set in a rudimentary, one-room recording studio. With Fluke (Patrick Morrow) on drums and Jay Perkins (Corey Kaiser) on bass situated towards the rear of the stage throughout the entire show, the highlights of the evening for me were when the individual sounds of each performer coalesced into a harmonious melody, like in the iconic “Brown Eyed Handsome Man.” My favorite song was their cover of “Down By The Riverside” performed a capella. It is in that moment that we are able to see that, without all the flashy lights and guitar/piano solos, that these four men are incredibly talented singers, even when stripped of their instruments, which become almost like extensions of the performers themselves throughout the evening.

The cast of 'Million Dollar Quartet.' Photo courtesy of The Kennedy Center.
The cast of ‘Million Dollar Quartet.’ Photo by Paul Natkin.

The evening ended with a standing ovation and a four-song encore, which included Elvis Presley performing “Hound Dog,” Johnny Cash performing “Ring of Fire,” Carl Perkins performing “See You Later, Alligator,” and Jerry Lee Lewis jamming to “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.” Based on the audience that was uniformly bopping and toe-tapping to the beat, the Tony Award nominated Million Dollar Quartet—which is presented in only one act—was a sure-fire hit, leaving the older generation with a sense of nostalgia for the bygone days of Rock ‘n’ Roll and the younger generation with a new playlist to add to their iPods.

Running Time: 95 minutes, with no intermission.


Million Dollar Quartet plays through October 6, 2013 at The Kennedy Center’s Eisenhower Theater – 2700 F St NW, in Washington, DC. Purchase tickets online, by phone at (202) 467-4600, or at The Kennedy Center box office.

Meet the cast of Million Dollar Quartet.

Million Dollar Quartet Tour website.


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