In a day and age when there was no YouTube, no one was carrying personal recording devices at all times. And when little mom-and-pop recording shops could still represent big names, an interesting aligning of the stars happened.
And by stars, one means big stars: Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, the man who wrote "Blue Suede Shoes."
On Dec. 4, 1956, the four men, one by one, happened in on the Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tenn. A forward-thinking engineer had the smarts to press "record," and history was made.
The Broadway musical "Million Dollar Quartet," which opened on Broadway in 2010, is a dramatized version of what happened that night.
While all the songs in the musical may not have actually been on the recording from that night, it sure makes for a fun night of theater.
And don't be fooled — the men in the show are all playing their own instruments and doing their own singing.
"Most of the guys from the show, that's what their trade is, they're musicians," said Derek Keeling, the actor who has the unenviable task of portraying Johnny Cash.
"This is the first time I've played a real person and with that comes different challenges," he said. "You get a lot to draw from, but with that, people are comparing you directly to Johnny Cash and you have to deliver."
Keeling is charged with delivering some of Cash's greatest hits, like "Folsom Prison Blues," "I Walk the Line" and "Riders in the Sky."
"It takes away the freedom you have with other roles. You have to be true to what is really there."
Keeling explains that the goal in the cast is not to "impersonate" but rather "portray."
"We want to capture who these characters are," he said. "When you see impersonators, they're more of a cartoon of what they're supposed to be instead of being as realistic as they can be.
"We want people to feel like a fly on the wall."
Keeling and his cast mates go through a litany of some of America's most well-loved songs, such as "Sixteen Tons," "Memories are made of This," "Fever" and "Great Balls of Fire."
Keeling, who did "Grease" on Broadway for five years, originally auditioned for the show as Elvis. "I sang a gospel song and they heard the lower end of my voice," he said.
"They asked me to sing Cash. We had to accompany ourselves in the audition and I hadn't learned any Cash," Keeling said. "So I said, 'Can you give me five minutes?' I looked it up on my phone, learned it and walked in and played it.
"I learned to never say that you can't do anything in an audition," he said. "Always be willing to do anything."
Keeling chuckles about how his craft has changed over time. "Ten years ago, I would have lost the job," he said. "It's totally different now than it was. When I used to tour, I didn't have a laptop or a smartphone — all that has really changed.
"That said, people need to come out and be prepared to not watch a 'musical theater show.' We enjoy the show so much more when the audience is really in to being a part of it."
If you'd like to rock out a bit before the big night, head to Gateway Plaza, near the fountain, on Tuesday, May 29, at 12:30 p.m. for a sneak peek of the rock stars of "Million Dollar Quartet."
If you go ...
What: "Million Dollar Quartet," national tour
When: May 29-June 3
Where: Capitol Theatre
How much: $57.50 - $42.50
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