Skip to main content

Review of Million Dollar Quartet at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

It is an awful lot of pressure to put on both a production and a group of performers to recreate legends of the past, and with Million Dollar Quartet, it as the title suggests brings the need to bring four such icons to the stage. However this touring production of the show knows no fear and rarely fails when bringing both them and an iconic day in the history of music to the stage.

Set on a single day in December 1956, Million Dollar Quartet tells the story of a chance gathering of Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley in a recording studio and the creation of an album of legend.

The first of the four we meet on stage is the cocky new guy Jerry Lee Lewis, performed on this night by understudy Elliot Clay. As is often the case with an understudy in my experience, it is an incredible performance capturing both the skill on the piano and the vocal talent impressively. He is suitably irritating to each and everyone else as this precocious, over confident kid making his mark on the recording studio for one of the first times, and Clay is quite brilliant.

Matt Wycliffe's portrayal of Carl Perkins is very different to that confident kid of Lewis, this is a star on a downward spiral of success as his crown has slipped and being grasped by his new competition Elvis Presley. Wycliffe's performance maintains a great balance in the need to get back to the big times, but also with them hidden ghosts of failure that would throw a shadow over his career forever.

Perhaps my favourite performance, and one of the most challenging to capture, is that of Robbie Durham's Johnny Cash. While all four have their styles, Cash was something different vocally and a remarkable performance is provided by Durham, with his recreations of I Walk the Line and Folsom Prison Blues were particularly impressive.

Perhaps though the greatest challenge in this musical of many challenges falls upon the shoulders of Ross William Wild. He rises to the challenge, mostly. Vocally in the songs he is more than strong enough to carry the mantle, and he has the moves required in the hips to create visually the legend as well. Perhaps at times when not singing, he doesn't quite sound and act the part, however his sparky and obvious love, but mostly hate scenes with Perkins are adeptly handled.

Holding the only flag aloft for the feminine gender in this show is Katie Ray as Elvis' then girlfriend Dyanne and she gives a truly incredible vocal performance and such power into Fever that suitably sends a fever though the audience. Her entire performance is really quite endearing and the perfect balance for all the testosterone on display.


Completing the main cast is Peter Duncan in the rather curious, but crucial role of Sam Phillips the producer. I say curious, because in this musical, other than the epic final concert encore, he doesn't partake in any of the singing numbers and acts mostly as the narrator. Duncan is solid in this role and of the touring cast, perhaps the most suited in it, as Jason Donovan and Martin Kemp have played Sam and I can't help but think you would feel shortchanged with them in this non-singing role.


Direction from Ian Talbot is neat and concise on the single set and despite most of the time the whole cast being present, he makes it never feel cramped or restricted and it feels like a working studio. The book from Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux is always entertaining and provides sparky and funny dialogue, mostly in the hands of Jerry Lee Lewis. It also neatly introduces the creation of that classic photo of the four around the piano, creating a poignant scene which gains a lovely round of applause from the audience.

As expected from a show based around a single day, it comes to a relatively early end, however this allows a glorious chance for the show to go full concert complete with extra banks of lights. It allows the show to give the audience everything that they want and they truly lap it up, many up from their seats.

Million Dollar Quartet is perhaps more music show than musical at times, but this is not a criticism, as the music performances are always never less than brilliant. A real feelgood show that should entertain both young and old, despite it clearly being lapped up by the old brigade the most. Really recommended if you are either a fan of the originals or love their musicals with that more concert edge.

««««½


Performance reviewed: Thursday 20th April, 2017 at the Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton.

Million Dollar Quartet runs at the Royal & Derngate until Saturday 22nd April, 2017 
and continues its tour thoughout 2017. Details of dates and locations can be found at http://milliondollarquartetlive.co.uk/


For further details visit the Royal & Derngate website at http://www.royalandderngate.co.uk/

Photos: Darren Bell

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Review of Cilla - The Musical at Royal & Derngate (Derngate), Northampton

I have to start with a confession dear reader, what I know about Cilla Black can pretty much be written on the back of the Derngate ticket that I clutched on entering the theatre (and that allows for the advert on the back). I have heard a couple of her tunes of course (more than once) and confess, once again, that I generally didn't like what I heard. I think it's clear that with her natural raw form and voice, "a diamond in the rough" as Brian Epstein, her eventual manager describes her, she a performer that you either love or generally, not hate as such, but perhaps just dislike. I fall in the latter. Curiously as I a forty-year-old, I also don't even fall into the Cilla of hit television either, being a BBC viewing family, I never saw her on TV much when I was growing up.

So, coming almost totally fresh to the world of Cilla, it was a little comforting that for the first act, much of the world of Cilla - The Musical revolves not just around star building Cil…

Review of Woman In Mind by Masque Theatre at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

I like Alan Ayckbourn, I may only have seen a few of his vast array of plays previously, but all have been a delight, often crazy yes, but constantly funny, and especially in the second act spiralling often into just on the very edge of believable nonsense. With Woman In Mind, acknowledged by many as one of his finest works, my own personal jury is very much out on whether I liked it or not.
What was very good, mostly, however, were the performances, most especially the two that we are introduced to at the very beginning. The prostrate Susan (Nicola Osborne), with sinisterly lurking rake alongside her, and the bag struggling doctor, Bill (John Myhill).
Nicola Osborne has the unenviable task in this play of never leaving the stage, a feat in itself. Add to this the constant weaving of the character's world (more on this later), and you have a role featuring some significant challenge, one that Osborne ably surmounts. I once described Osborne as a "safe pair of hands" in …

Press launch of Sting's The Last Ship at Errol Flynn Filmhouse, Northampton

On Friday 16th February 2018, I attended the official press launch of The Last Ship. In attendance were the writer of the show, Sting, and cast members for the 2018 UK tour Richard Fleeshman, Charlie Hardwick and Joe McGann, with musical support from Rob Mathes.

During the event, opened entertainingly by producer Karl Sydow, Sting and the cast members performed seven of the songs from the show: The Last Ship (Sting), Dead Man's Boots (Sting and Fleeshman), Sail Away (Hardwick), The Night the Pugilist Learned to Dance (Fleeshman), What Say You Meg? (Fleeshman) and What Have You Got? (Sting and cast).

Each of these songs showed us a great background to the evocative tale that The Last Ship tells, of a community under attack as its crucial shipbuilding industry begins to fail. The performers and Sting himself delivered the songs with huge passion, despite, as Sting himself commented, the earnestness of the hour, with the event beginning at 10 am.

The Last Ship was initially inspired …