“MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET,” through Aug. 3, Hale Center Theater Orem, 225 W. 400 North (801-226-8600 or haletheater.org); running time: 2 hours 15 minutes (one intermission)
OREM — Dozens of audience members left Hale Center Theater Orem on the opening night of “Million Dollar Quartet” with a swing in their step, humming classic rock and dancing as they walked — the clearest evidence of the musical’s success in capturing the contagious spirit of rock ’n’ roll.
The jukebox musical — a genre that constructs a story around a set of popular music — tells the story of Dec. 4, 1956, when rock legends Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis had an impromptu recording session at the legendary Sun Records recording studio in Memphis. If the musical is any indication of what happened that day, the result was pure magic.
As HCTO dramaturg, Dr. Christopher Clark pointed out that unlike other jukebox musicals like “Mamma Mia,” which incorporate established songs into an original story, “Million Dollar Quartet” tells the story of the artists and incorporates their music biographically.
The musical portrays the fortunate turn of events of that December day, including performances of 22 classic rock songs. Sun Records owner Sam Phillips, portrayed by Bryan M. Dayley, acts as the musical’s narrator, scattering explanations and historical background in between the catchy and captivating musical performances when necessary.
The first half of the show was a fantastic scene-setter, especially the performances of “Real Wild Child,” “Fever” and “That’s All Right.” The second half added much more emotion and depth as it elaborated on the artists’ decisions to leave Sun Records, the used auto parts shop turned recording studio that still exists today.
The show’s script emphasizes that Sun Records didn’t rely on the bells and whistles of large Hollywood studios, but on pure talent — much like the musical itself. “Million Dollar Quartet” doesn’t feature elaborate sets, lavish costumes or scene changes; it relies completely on its small but extremely talented cast.
The show’s stars — Colin Summers as Carl Perkins, Benjamin D. Hale as Johnny Cash, David Paul Smith as Jerry Lee Lewis and Michael D Potter as Elvis Presley — are unmatched in their talent, both as actors and musicians.
Smith could easily be described as the “wild one” in his standout performance as Lewis. His charisma and charm were infectious, and he brought a unique physical comedy to the show. His seemingly effortless skill at the piano was even more impressive — he flawlessly hammered out upbeat classic rock with confidence and style, all while putting on an engaging and entertaining performance.
Summers’ skill and precision on electric guitar, Hale’s extraordinary vocals and Potter’s undeniable charm should also be applauded. It must be a daunting challenge to portray some of the greatest musicians of all time, but the stars were fit to the task. The supporting cast was equally as talented — Brooke Holladay as Dyanne, Elvis’ girlfriend, was especially notable thanks to her stellar vocals in songs like “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking.”
The musical was perfectly fit to the HCTO’s intimate theater, which is just detailed enough to captivate the audience without distracting from the show’s real focus: the music. The small stage and theater-in-the-round experience made it easy to feel invited into Sun Records to witness a historic rock ’n’ roll moment, which culminated in an exhilarating finale that brought everyone in the room to their feet (and some even to the stage).
“Million Dollar Quartet” is a must-see if you’re a fan of classic rock. Even if you’re not, you’ll find it hard to resist tapping your foot and dancing along with rock ’n’ roll’s most legendary greats.
Content advisory: “Million Dollar Quartet” contains mild swearwords, some sexual innuendo, and alcohol and cigarette use.