I’m here to praise the Finger Lakes Theatre aka Merry-go-Round Playhouse again. Yesterday we went to see “Million Dollar Quartet,” the musical about the one evening that Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, and Jerry Lee Lewis were together at Sun Records with Sam Phillips, the man who had or would launch their careers. It’s a really interesting story, but I’m not going to tell it now. Because the greatness of this wonderful production is in the music! From the first chord to the third encore, the audience is rapt and part of this rock roll moment that happened on a December night in 1956.
I want to rave about the performers/actors in this show. Individually, each is fine, but this is a case of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts! When these young men are rocking it together--I’m not sure how they keep the roof on the building out there in Auburn! Noel Casey IS Jerry Lee Lewis. This is THE performance of a cast full of terrific performances. Casey brings the backwoods, piano-pounding Jerry Lee to life from the moment he enters the scene. He pounds on the piano, plays it with his feet, his elbows, and his butt! He climbs on it and dances on it, and it’s an upright. Casey as Lewis is great as an actor, too. He is a pain-in-the-ass country boy, 20 years old and already twice married, once to a cousin, who was 13. James Bock’s Carl Perkins is nearly as fabulous as Casey’s Lewis. He’s an occasionally brooding, pissed-off-at-how -success-has-failed-to-happen-in-his-world kind of young man. He’s fearful that if something doesn’t come to him quickly, then the rest of his career will be spent playing gigs from the back of a flatbed truck at firemen’s carnival. Bock’s a fine actor, but a better guitar player. When his fingers launch into a lead guitar riff, the result is so powerful, yet so apparently effortless--one of those joys to behold! Justin Figueroa as Johnny Cash is very good. He’s got the voice, the, interestingly enough, innocence, and the gravitas I associate with Cash. (I hate that word “gravitas,” but I couldn’t think of a better one.) Then there’s Elvis as performed by Luke Linsteadt. Elvis’ contract had been sold to RCA the year before so that Sam Phillips, owner of Sun Records could keep the studio alive. This is a troubled, innocent, naive, very likable King of Rock and Roll come back to visit Phillips, the one man he feels really understands him. Linstead is very good. He can sing and shake and dance about in the Presley way. The only thing that distracts from his performance, and I hate to mention as it’s not his fault, is he is too short to play the King surrounded by strapping six-footers. I don’t think he’s more than 5’9’, and is dwarfed by those he shares the stage with. The most iconic figure in rock and roll history has to tower!!
Oher performers I have to mention include Dana Parker as Dyanne, one of Elvis’ girlfriends. When she sings “Fever,” well, as the old saying used to go, it’s hot enough to melt your zipper. Luke Darnelle is a wonderful Sam Phillips, charismatic, wise beyond his years, and very content in the little musical world he has created. The drum and stand up bass background musicians were marvelous. It was fun to look away from the main performers once in a while to watch these pros at work.
If you can get out to Auburn to see this show do it! It’s bright, and fast, and loud! I raved about “From Here to Eternity” this summer. Again, the Merry-Go-Round has spun out a production equal to what you could find in New York.