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Is Million Dollar Quartet Worth Your Big Bucks?

February 20, 2013 at 8:54 PM | by | ()

There's a whole lot of of nostalgia and shakin' going on at Harrah's. The musical Million Dollar Quartet sates your Elvis impersonator fix and adds Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins into the mix.

On December 4, 1956, this quartet found themselves together in the Memphis studio of Sun Records for the first and last time. Informally, and devoid of any commercial motivation, they played some songs that were recorded on almost a whim. The next day, a journalist branded them a million dollar quartet. That's in 1950s money. Since 2010, this moment in time has become a stage musical that takes broad liberties with the occasion, the songs and the significance, but will give you 90 minutes of retro entertainment. If that's your bag, you'll probably dig it, Daddy O. On the fence? 23 skidoo. There's not much middle ground.

Twenty-three songs ring out and most you'll know. "That's Alright." "I Walk The Line." Neither song sung during the actual session. It's like an elevated, fifties version of Legends In Concert the show this show replaced.

The poster above includes the words "inspired by the electrifying true story." Inspired is printed in the smallest possible font. Truth is, very little presented on stage has anything to do with the reality of the day's events. Including the actual songs, the manufactured drama and, most importantly, if you can even hear a note of Johnny Cash singing on the final recording. Wikipedia has a nice run down of the actual session's facts. All of the solo Cash performances presented on stage are a fiction.

But, the show desperately needs Johnny Cash. It's his and Jerry Lee Lewis' show. The Elvis performer on our media invited review night didn't work as well as we'd hope. The Carl Perkins is fine. But, the performances lack true grit in a rock and roll show that heavily promotes "musical fireworks." We even found it languid in places. It also lacks the plentiful, gentle, gospel harmonies present in the real life 1956 get-together. The drama is so manufactured we weren't really interested in the fussing over contracts, record label and royalties. The genuine history is more intriguing to read at home.

Sam Phillips, the record label and studio honcho, plays the narrator. Think the Colonel Tom Parker role in Cirque's Viva Elvis show that closed at Aria. The set is one single location, the Sun studio and an adjacent outside alley. No rat-a-tat set changes like Jersey Boys. One room and the cast. The cast play all their instruments. Maybe too quietly for the surprisingly cavernous room. Do know what you are getting for your dollar? Covers of fifties songs with no embellishments. Not a fan? You won't be drawn in by the "plot" or the staging. It appears a rather narrow audience.

Jersey Boys is a Broadway show. Surf the Musical tried to be. MDQ? It is an off-Broadway show, in our opinion. When the touring show came to the Smith Center last year, it made sense. A temporary home for a show that reached all the audience members who needed to see it. Here on the Strip? Not so sure. Maybe even Harrah's isn't. Outside this very theater, a video still shows clips from Legends In Concert. When the actor playing Sam Phillips leaves the studio and slams the door, the set wobbles. Not so permanent a structure. We don't believe this show has legs, or will generate enough word of mouth. Walking around the casino, not a single fifties song can be heard. Paris and The Venetian at least play songs from their shows as muzak.

The last moments of the real day's event are Elvis saying goodbye to Jerry Lewis and the musicians. A low key coda. Emblematic of the no pressure nature of the actual million dollar quartet just hanging out, enjoying and sharing their music. On stage at Harrah's, the show opts for a cast finale in sparkly jackets trying to get the audience into creating a three song hootenanny. And getting them on their feet for an ovation. If that's what you are looking for, you'll do fine here. Prefer the real thing? Delve into the original recording and read the excellent Last Train to Memphis by Peter Guralnick which will immerse you in the period. And, don't forget Vegas has a fervent rockabilly scene. We recommend local barn stormers, The Delta Bombers.

Million Dollar Quartet is upstairs at the Harrah's Showroom, Thursdays through Tuesdays at 7 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays also feature a 9.30 p.m. show. Tickets range from $69 to $94, but we expect them to be heavily discounted.

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