Tuesday, 8 March 2011

More Reviews

In an attempt to catch up below are further reviews from the opening (press) night of Million Dollar Quartet.

Million Dollar Quartet at the Noel Coward Theatre
Posted by Milly Kenny-Ryder in Theatre
You may have seen the bright Million Dollar Quartet sign near Leicester Square, it has been up for some time. The show celebrates the night that four of the greatest rock’n'roll legends came together: Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins under the guidance of Sam Phillips, record producer at Sun Records.
On this night in 1956 the four have an epic jam session and make music history.
This show is lots of fun, and the score will delight visitors of all ages. The production is less a musical than a tribute act, with four very talented impersonators. There is little narrative, so if you need the loo halfway through, the most you’re going to miss is a favourite Elvis number. While watching, I found many parallels with Woody Sez, the show on just round the corner showcasing folk artist Woody Guthrie’s life and music. There are also similarities with box office success Jersey Boys, particularly in the staging that favours dramatic static poses and strong silhouettes.
Of the four performers, Ben Goddard sparkles brightest, playing the cheeky Jerry Lee Lewis; he has a magnetic spirit and an irresistible charm. He is an exceptional pianist and has a voice that is full of fire. Goddard energises the score matching the original Lewis’s star quality. Robert Britton Lyons has a tricky task playing the less famous musician Carl Perkins, luckily his guitar skills make up for the slightly bland characterisation. Both Derek Hagen (Johnny Cash) and Michael Malarkey (Elvis Presley) fulfil the brief as their respective legends; it’s a pleasure to listen to their renditions of some classic numbers and they seem to love being up there. There is secure back-up too from Francesca Jackson as Presley’s squeeze Dyanne, and Bill Ward as the enthusiastic ringleader Sam Phillips.
Although Million Dollar Quartet may not be as durable as its competitors, no-one can deny the talent and fun that the show displays by the bucket-load.

Kate Kellaway
The Observer, Sunday 6 March 2011
Million Dollar Quartet focuses on 4 December 1956, when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins were together at Sun Records, Memphis, Tennessee. This creates an opportunistic excuse for an almost non-stop performance of their hits. This jukebox musical plays so safe it ought to be dangerous, but a fresh cast, directed with pizzazz, by Eric Schaeffer, saves it. Ben Goddard, as Jerry Lee Lewis, is a sensation: manically musical. Michael Malarkey has an admirable stab at Elvis (an impossible undertaking). Robert Britton Lyons (the only cast member imported from the US) convinces as Carl Perkins. And Derek Hagen exactly catches Johnny Cash's brooding quality. The "story" is held together by record producer/narrator Sam Phillips (a capable Bill Ward). I took one of my teenage sons along. He has had no experience of blue suede shoes, great balls of fire or of hound dogs – at least, not musically speaking. "The music was great," he said.

The Million Dollar Quartet
Noel Coward Theatre, London WC2
Sunday 06 March 2011
by Dennis Poole
A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On could be a signature tune for 1956, the year that gave us the 20th Congress of the CPSU and some notable events in Hungary, Vietnam and Suez.
And it's the concluding number in The Million Dollar Quartet, a new musical which celebrates an impromptu music session held at the Sun recording studios in Memphis, Tennessee, on December 4 that year.
The prototype supergroup of Carl Perkins (Robert Britton Lyons), Elvis Presley (Michael Malarkey), Johnny Cash (Derek Hagen) and Jerry Lee Lewis (Ben Goddard) jam their way through a couple of dozen rock'n'roll standards and the show also features the owner of Sun Records Sam Phillips (Bill Ward) and Elvis's girlfriend Dyanne (Francesca Jackson).
The sparse narrative centres on the perceived tensions between the main characters with Perkins, resentful of Presley's greater success with his own first record Blue Suede Shoes, now looking for the next big hit.
Financially strapped, Phillips had recently sold Presley's contract to RCA and is keen to sign Cash to a three-year contract extension. Cash, having already been approached by Columbia records with a lucrative offer, is torn between loyalty to Phillips and the glittering prizes.
Presley is shown to be uncomfortable with the musical and commercial directions being laid out for him by RCA and Colonel Tom Parker and he revels in the simpler pleasures of jamming with the boys, while Lewis provides the spice in the mix. Anarchic, irreverent and with an outrageous talent he is restlessly impatient for the big break.
Floyd Mutrux, who originally conceived the idea for the show, has taken considerable liberty with historical accuracy. Leaving aside the contrived relationships, only three of the songs in the show featured in the original encounter.
But what the hell, this ain't serious drama. It's a 90-minute romp through some of the early gems of rock'n'roll.
Musically the show relies heavily upon Goddard's manic piano playing and Lyons's driving lead guitar with workmanlike contributions from Malarkey and Hagen on acoustic guitar. Hagen effectively captures Cash's bass vocal tones particularly in I Walk the Line, but Malarkey is less convincing as Presley.
Unsurprisingly Lyons, who transfers from the Broadway production, gives an excellent representation as Perkins and is vocally and instrumentally spot on. The Devil, as always, has the best lines and Goddard as Jerry Lee steals the show with exuberant renditions of Great Balls of Fire and A Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, while Francesca Jackson (Dyanna) offers a stunning version of Fever.
The front-line performers are well supported by Gez Gerrard as Perkin's brother Jay on string bass and there's efficient drum support by Adam Riley as Fluke.
If you're nostalgic for genuine rock 'n'roll go and see this show. But don't be expecting to dance in the aisles, 'cos there aren't any.

This is South Wales
Saturday, March 05, 2011, 09:00
Hopeful is one in a million
SWANSEA stage star Francesca Jackson has finally proved Andrew Lloyd Webber wrong by landing a top West End role.
Francesca made the live finals of BBC reality contest I'd Do Anything, but she was voted off meaning she didn't get to play Nancy on stage in Oliver! Three years on she has shown Lord Webber she belongs in the West End where she is now starring in hit show Million Dollar Quartet.
In an exclusive chat at the opening night, Francesca told me: "It's great to have the chance to show I'm good enough to be in the West End. It was really tough when I was voted off I'd Do Anything so getting this role has meant a lot.
"It's definitely one of the best jobs I've ever had!
"It's been such a laugh so far and I'm really enjoying it."
The show, playing at the Noel Coward Theatre, is about music legends Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis during their time at Sun Records in Memphis.
And Ystalyfera-born Francesca, 27, plays the only female part in the show, Dyanne, which opened to rave reviews this week.
She told me: "The boys are very protective over me because I'm the only girl. They all seem to want to look after me!
"It's great playing a sexy role, but in truth the curves aren't all mine — I wear padding all over. It means I sweat an awful lot on stage."

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