Great balls of fire!

Million Dollar Quartet brings legendary ’50s rock to the Vic

By Tim Walker

It was December of 1956, and rock and roll was new. The Korean War had ended three years before. Montgomery, Alabama, ended race-based seating restrictions on its bus lines that month, and the next day Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. proudly rode on one of the newly integrated city buses. Wilt Chamberlain played his first collegiate basketball game, scoring 52 points, and in South Africa, an unknown young man named Nelson Mandela was arrested for his political activism.

But on Dec. 4 that year, at Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee, a different kind of history was made when the Million Dollar Quartet performed together for the first and only time.

Carl Perkins, who had already found success with his song “Blue Suede Shoes,” had come to the now-legendary studio that day, accompanied by drummer W.S. Holland, their plan being to record an old blues song, “Matchbox.” Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, brought in his latest acquisition, Jerry Lee Lewis, to play piano and beef up the sound a bit. Lewis was still unknown outside Memphis, and his first Sun single would be released a few days later. At some point in the afternoon, 21-year-old Elvis Presley, a former Sun artist, arrived accompanied by a girlfriend. Presley listened to the playback of Perkins’ recording then went into the studio and the jam session began. Johnny Cash, another Sun artist who had recently enjoyed a few hits on the country charts, later arrived and joined in as well.

The meeting and the music of these four rockabilly music legends is the subject of a well-known jukebox musical entitled Million Dollar Quartet, written by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott. The show premiered at Florida’s Seaside Music Theater in 2006 before opening on Broadway in 2010—it was later nominated for three 2010 Tony Awards—and finally going on tour nationally in October 2011. Now the current production, with a cast that includes Evan Buckley Harris as Johnny Cash, Jason Cohen as Jerry Lee Lewis, Skip Robinson as Elvis Presley, Christopher Wren as Carl Perkins, Jackey Good as Dyanne and Matthew Scott as Sam Phillips, will be coming to the Victoria Theatre April 8-10.

“Fifties rock and roll, that’s what it is,” says Evan Buckley Harris, aka Johnny Cash. “It’s just a great show. It covers one night, December 4, 1956 at Sun Studios in Memphis, and Carl Perkins is doing a recording session. Sam Phillips had these three other guys show up, the quartet, and in comes Elvis and Johnny and Jerry Lee, and they all jam. This really happened, and it’s pretty amazing. And that’s the only time it ever happened in rock and roll history.”

Much like Johnny Cash, Harris is no stranger to music. An accomplished musician himself—he plays piano, guitar, upright bass and harmonica—Harris, a Nevada native who grew up in Reno, majored in vocal performance at the University of Nevada, Reno.

“I started picking up different instruments when I was a freshman in high school, about 2004,” he continues. “I learned guitar, learned piano … you know, I really learned most of those instruments through shows that I’ve been in. I did a few shows where I had to play upright bass, which I literally had to learn right there on the spot. That’s kind of how it works a lot of the time … doing theatre, you’ll learn to play an instrument, whether you like it or not, if you get a role that requires it. But on piano and guitar, I’m completely self-taught. I just enjoyed them, so I learned that way, just on my own, in my own time.”

When asked how he got his start in musical theatre, Harris replies, “I’ve been involved in musical theatre since 2010. I was a sophomore in college—I had gone to a junior college out of high school to play football. I was a quarterback. I transferred back after I stopped playing football my sophomore year. I transferred to the University of Nevada, Reno in my hometown, and I got into music courses there. I ended up playing Danny Zuko in Grease in the spring musical … that was my first musical. I got the lead, and pretty much knew right then that’s what I wanted
to do.”

With a talented cast and a score of hit songs including “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Fever,” “That’s All Right,” “Sixteen Tons” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Million Dollar Quartet’s April stop at the Victoria Theatre will definitely be a show worth seeing.

Million Dollar Quartet will be performed Friday-Saturday, April 8-9 at the Victoria Theatre, 138 N. Main St. in Dayton. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday. For tickets or more information, please visit victoriatheatre.com, ticketcenterstage.com or call 937.228.3630.

Tim Walker is 50 and a writer, DJ and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz and black t-shirts.

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Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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