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News » "Million Dollar Quartet" musical at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago

"Million Dollar Quartet" musical at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago

05 October 2008
The "Million Dollar Quartet" musical made its midwest debut in the 343-seat Owen Theatre at the Goodman Theatre on Sunday, the 27th of September and will run through October 27.

The production is an honest look at 1956 in terms of music, fashion and feisty mid-South regionalism. It is another entry in the genre of biographical musicals in the vein of the "The Buddy Holly Story," "Jersey Boys" and "All Shook Up."

"In the show we try to bring out that brawling spirit of early rock 'n' roll," said Sun Records historian Colin Escott, who collaborated on the historically meticulous script for the musical. "Whatever was on their mind is what they said. Roy Orbison said the first time he saw the Perkins Brothers (Carl and Jay) was when the elevator door from their management office opened. The brothers were on the floor pummeling each other. That's who these guys were. We didn't want a fuzzy 'Happy Days' romanticism to [the musical]."

Escott said he was recruited for the project more than six years ago after Floyd Mutrux ("American Hot Wax") read the section on the quartet in Escott's book Good Rockin' Tonight. Mutrux brought in producers Gigi Pritzker and John Cossette, who is best known for producing the past 17 Grammy Awards telecasts. In real life, Cossette worked with everyone in the quartet except for Presley. (Cossette's father, Pierre, ran Dunhill Records in Los Angeles (Mamas & Papas, Steppenwolf. Between 1979 and 1984 John Cossette was production manager for the '50s band Sha Na Na.)

For the Chicago production, Levi Kreis (a graduate of the hit reality television show "The Apprentice with Donald Trump") stars as Lewis, while Lance Guest (who appeared in the cult sci-fi film "The Last Starfighter") is Cash. Rob Lyons has the toughest role in Perkins, who is the most vague of the four in terms of cultural memory. Rockabilly performer Eddie Clendening takes on Presley with a brilliant understatement. South-suburban Chicago actor Brian McCaskill (seen here recently in Goodman's production of "The Ballad of Emmett Till") portrays Sun Records mogul Sam Phillips. The quartet's house band is anchored by drummer Billy Schaeffer formerly of Chicago's Jump 'N the Saddle Band.

The show's musical director Chuck Mead (founder and lead vocalist of BR549, the Nashville-based country roots band) was specifically recruited by Escott, which was keeping with Cossette's vision for the production.

Mead also pointed out that unlike "The Buddy Holly Story," which draws from the Holly songbook, "Million Dollar Quartet" branches out through different musical elements. What works particularly well is a medley by Guest doing a spot-on Cash with Merle Travis' "Sixteen Tons" and Lyons on "My Babe," written by Chicago blues legend Willie Dixon.

"With four individuals who had four strong careers, you have a lot to play with," Mead said.

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