By Quinn Rigg
In today’s age of technological progress, it’s easy to get lost in the din of everyday hustle and bustle. Emails upon emails every day keep the mind frantic, and the malaise of catastrophe after catastrophe keeps the heart on the edge of its seat. It’s no secret that the future is oftentimes a dubious prospect to dwell upon, dampened with doubt and skepticism. It is often uplifting to delve into the past in order to find some shred of hope to bring forward to the future.
Theater at the Center’s Million Dollar Quartet is filled with energetic spunk and endearing camp that is sure to enliven audiences with nostalgic hits from yesteryear.
Million Dollar Quartet is a jukebox musical based on a seminal moment of rock n’ roll history in 1956, wherein Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash recorded a jam session together at Sun Records in Memphis, Tenn. The musical dramatizes this historical event, placing Sun Records’ Chief Executive Sam Phillips as the narrator and dramatic focal point of the show, as well as adding a character named Dyanne: a fictionalized, tune-singing version of Elvis’s girlfriend.
The stage is amazingly transformed into an accurate (if not generously large) recording studio. Scenic designer Ann Davis adorns the set with small details that bring the production’s space to life. Direction from Daryl Brooks manifests an old roadies fantasy as the quartet of famed rock-n’-rollers bicker, bond, and harmonize together for the first and only time. Brooks does well not to bound his cast to strict impersonations; the space to make their own organic decisions.
Most crucially, music direction by William Underwood breathes immense life and energy into the piece; after all, music is the lifeblood of such a work. This musical turns into a dynamic, toe-tapping rock concert with Underwood at the helm.
Sean Fortunato spearheads this night of nostalgic rabble-rousing as Phillips. Fortunato deftly plays the headstrong producer with honesty and clear opinions on the world he creates. Clever and cunning, Fortunato indulges the ego of a man set on making a mark for himself. Through his humanizing honesty, we identify and connect with Fortunato’s Phillips — our eyes into the world of stardom.
Presley comes back to Sun Records for a nostalgic blast to the past, as he misses the scrappy glory and artistic authenticity of his days working under Phillips. Zach Sorrow dons the role of “The King” with authenticity and tact. While adopting many of Elvis’ performance mannerisms (jerky legs and all), Sorrow does not let himself become a caricature when connecting with his cast mates.
Perkins seeks to find his next hit as he fights against his career’s lethargy as of late. Zachary Stevenson brings an effectively tired, worn-down perspective to the role; the tiredness is indicative of his inner hunger and desire to perform. Stevenson’s inner fire comes to the forefront when he picks up his guitar. As a musician, he is clean, dynamic, and undeniably brilliant.
Throughout the show, the young Lewis seeks to prove his worth and herald his gifts as a hot-headed musician; Michael Kurowski crackles and pops with fiery intensity befitting of the legendary Lewis. Kurowski’s athleticism and skill behind the piano allow for jaw-dropping piano acrobatics. Whether plunking the keys sitting, standing, with his feet, with his rear, or from behind, Kurowski demonstrates that he knows how to liven up a party. His prowess as a musician is matched by his charm. Kurowski emulates the overconfident bravado of a young, flirtatious jokester with likable ease.
The least fiery of the bunch, Cash seeks to make music and be good to the people in his life as a man of faith — he struggles with finding a way to tell his producer that he’s leaving Sun Records. Tommy Malouf brings a hopeful maturity to Cash; Malouf boldy and comfortably steps into the big shoes of such a big man. His bass notes are resonant and affecting; Malouf’s soul rings through his voice, aptly eliciting the charm and heart of his real-world counterpart.
Aeriel Williams rocks the house with her skill and spunk as Dyanne. Cool and confident behind the microphone, Williams croons with passion and purity. The crackle of her timbre ignites the heart and touches the soul; her dynamic facility with her instrument compels the ear to listen closely and intently.
While the despair and anxiety of tomorrow may stifle our hope and excitement for the future, Theatre at the Center reminds us that there is a bright and innovative future ahead if we will it to be. In smiling at our past, we gain the courage and hope to do better in the present. Through the power of the nation’s favorite music, the Million Dollar Quartet is guaranteed to wow crowds.
Theatre at the Center presents “Million Dollar Quartet” through March 31st at the Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road in Munster, Indiana. More information and tickets may be found here.