There was indeed a “A Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On” Friday night when “Million Dollar Quartet,” was presented by Actors Theatre of Indiana at The Palladium for the Center of The Performing Arts in Carmel. Presented previously in 2016 and 2018, this latest production was an ATI revival.
What made the production more unique than ATI’s previous ones held previously in its intimate Studio Theatre space at the Center, was the fact that the show was performed in a 1,600-seat venue, giving it an exciting rock concert, with all the lighting and sound fixings, flavor, and atmosphere.
“Million Dollar Quarte” is a jukebox musical with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux. It recreates the historic “Million Dollar Quartet” recording session of December 4, 1956, among early rock and roll/country stars who recorded at Sun Studio in Memphis are Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins, and newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis. The musical opened on Broadway in 2010. Though the actual gathering was mostly spontaneous and pure chance, in this retelling, the four famed musicians are brought together by legendary Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records. The jam session, considered a seminal moment in rock and roll, eventually became a recording titled “Elvis Presley: The Million Dollar Quartet” and was released in 1990.
Handily directed by D J Salisbury, the formidable ATI cast of actor-singer-musicians, some of them having played their lead roles in previous MDQ productions nationwide, included local performer Brandon Allstot as Cash, Jacob Barton as Elvis, Jeffrey Barton as Elvis, Jeffrey McDonald (who was also the show’s music director) as Lewis and Michael Perrie as Carl. In supporting roles were bassist James Peter Gallardo as Brother Jay and drummer Nathan Shue as Flue.
Playing Phillips was Don Farrell who reprised his role from the previous ATI productions of MDQ. Also appearing was Amanda McCarthy who played Presley’s girlfriend Dyanne.
Charismatic Allstot, Barton, McDonald and Perrie were all uniformly excellent in their portrayals. with each turning in spectacular vocal and dramatic performances that were thoroughly entertaining and convincing. Especially effective was their impeccable vocal harmonies, musicianship and seasoned showmanship that did justice to the music icons they portrayed.
As far as the previously mentioned concert-quality the show, the musical numbers that were elevated in that grand setting, represented a cavalcade of rock and roll, country and gospel hits from the past that included “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Down By The Riverside,” “Sixteen Tons,” “Long Tall Sally,” “Peace in The Valley,” “I Hear you Knocking,” “Great Balls of Fire,” “Hound Dog,” just to name a few.
As far as the show’s technical elements are concerned, the creative and technical team contributed highly to the success of a production of such scale in a venue that rarely stage musicals and when they do, it is mostly concert versions. Kudos are in order for lighting designer Erin Meyer, costume designer Donna Jacobi, sound designer and engineer Ben Dobler, and scenic designer and technical director Bernie Killian.
“Whole Lot of Shakin’” was performed by the gifted musicians at the show’s spectacular, rollicking eye-popping conclusion. As I turned around to observe the enthralled crowd, I felt joy at seeing my fellow Boomers, many of them wearing huge smiles on their faces, and dancing in place. I could not help but surmise that the music they were hearing took them back to their youth as it certainly did for me. There were also young people present who were also engaged, proving that this so called “devil’s music” that began a revolution will stand the test of time.