by Gerry Roe
There is a time machine at Old Creamery Theatre. Walk into the theatre, find your seat, and prepare to be transported. I dropped more than 60 years once the time travel began and when it stopped I was at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee, and the date was December 4, 1956 when rock and roll music took a major step forward (in spite of the belief held by many people that it was just a fad and would disappear from the record industry and the airwaves). That night four giants of music played together for the first and only time. The Old Creamery Theatre’s production allows us into that magic night to listen to Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Elvis Presley.
Sean McCall, the Creamery’s artistic director, has assembled a remarkable cast and has even reprised his role as Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records and a substantial influence on the musicians. Creamery regulars know McCall’s work well in comedic roles with an uncanny ability to provide humor and to shift imperceptibly from making the audience react with laughter to evoking compassion and sympathy for the underlying pain and sorrow of the character. Although I’ve seen him do it many times in different roles, my admiration of his technique and artistry has never changed.
Most of the cast reprises their roles from last summer’s amazing production. Johnny Cash (Todd Meredith), Elvis Presley (Morgan McDowell), Jerry Lee Lewis (Marek Sapleyevski), and Fluke the percussionist (Tristan Tripscott), follow McCall in playing the characters we saw in the 2016 production. But they each have the gift of good actors who can make us think their lines and their physical reactions are spontaneous. In addition to creating credible characters they demonstrate genuine talent as musicians. Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley play their guitars skillfully and in character. Fluke is an exciting and reliable percussionist, usually supporting the other musicians but just as capably taking the spotlight in his solo work. But watch the piano player. Sapieyevski’s playing very successfully captures Jerry Lee Lewis’s energetic, almost frenetic, pounding on the piano keys with his hands, a foot, and once playing behind his back, never breaking stride or allowing the insistent rhythm to lapse. Think about it. Playing while facing away from the piano means the left hand plays the higher notes and the right hand takes over the thumping bass.
In addition, McCall has found three actors we have not seen before to take the roles of Carl Perkins (Nathan Burke), Carl Perkins’ brother Jay (Jody Alan Lee), and Emily Seibert (Dyanne), Elvis’s girlfriend and aspiring singer. Burke’s bass guitar and Lee’s double bass, blend with the other musicians as if they had been playing together for years. Burke, like Sapieyevski, at one point plays his instrument behind his back without missing a lick. Emily Seibert’s singing as Dyanne is good enough and her character strong enough that, when we have a moment, we wonder why her career in the music industry apparently never reached the peaks of the other musicians.
In fairness, I admit that rock and roll has had limited appeal for me, but I thoroughly enjoyed Million Dollar Quartet twice! Once last summer and now this production which plays through July 2. Whether or not you saw the 2016 production, take a trip in the Creamery’s time machine and experience for the first or second time, Million Dollar Quartet.