October 18, 2021

‘Million $ Quartet’ kills

Eric Behnke/Contributing Photo

Colin Barkell as Johnny Cash, Noah Jermain as Elvis Presley, Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis and Todd Meredith as Carl Perkins in Cortland Repertory Theatre’s produc- tion of “Million Dollar Quartet” running through Sept. 13.

PREBLE — Man oh man oh man.
People are going to love Cortland Repertory Theatre’s “Million Dollar Quartet.”
Go. See. This. Musical. Period.
Go see it. It’s fabulous.

The show, at the Little York Review Pavilion at Dwyer Memorial Park through Sept. 13, is a snap shot in rock and roll history: eyeing the mid 1950s, when white male singers were trying to burst on the music scene with revolutionary rock and roll.

“Million Dollar Quartet” portrays a night in 1956 when stars Johnny Cash, played by Colin Barkell, Elvis Presley, played by Noah Jermain, Carl Perkins, played by Todd Meredith, and Jerry Lee Lewis, played by Gavin Rohrer, gather for a jam session at Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tenn., where they all got their start, under the guidance of owner Sam Phillips, played by Bobby Becher.

The evening really occurred, was photographed and recorded, though some dramatic license was taken at points by writers Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux.

Let’s not forget Brother Jay on the bass, played by Nathan Yates Douglass, Fluke on the drums, played by Michael Lucchetti and Dyanne, the singer girlfriend of Elvis, played by Emily Seibert. They too, amaze.
Meredith and Kerby Thompson, producing artistic director of CRT, direct the show and Meredith, known for his Buddy Holly tribute shows at CRT, also is music director. I loved his electric guitar playing.

The cast is incredible with voices that can belt it out with soul, whether “Fever,” — by Seibert,
“Real Wild Child” by Rohrer, an outrageous flirt with sex appeal, “Folsom Prison Blues” by Barkell, “Hound Dog” by Jermain and “Who Do You Love” by Meredith.

Douglass yanks his upright bass around the stage, sits on it, lays on it, while playing it. How can the instrument handle this?

Rohrer pounds on his piano with his hands, his elbows, his feet, and even his buttocks! I hope the piano is bolted to the stage.

He also uses the instrument to bust on Carl Perkins, who does not want his recording session taken over by this talented upstart. The two clash and that makes this fun.

And Lucchetti’s drum playing was fresh, while swirling his sticks in the air like a baton.

All the actors were appealing. I loved Becher’s character in the gutsy Phillips, who’s small, independent company nurtured fresh sound. “If you aren’t doing something different, you aren’t doing nothing,” he tells the men.

Rohrer is just outrageous as Lewis, with this engaging, larger than life personality. He’s a magnet on that stage.

And I loved the men’s vulnerability, how they revealed their poor upbringing — Perkins said he was lucky he had any shoes, much less “Blue Suede Shoes,” for example.

The sound, by Seth Asa Sengel, was effective and I like the lighting design by Eric Behnke. Phillips also served as a narrator and at points he’d step away from the recording action to highlight a past conversation.

The light would dim on the musicians and pour onto Phillips.

And then the light, with help from the dramatic shiny curtain in the culminating stage show, jacked up the power of the musician’s performance, with a mix of bright colors. The technical crew has their own talent going on.

Great close out on the summer season, CRT.