The Hippo


Nov 19, 2019








This weekend, the Palace Theatre produces Million Dollar Quartet. Courtesy photo.

Million Dollar Quartet

Where: Palace Theatre, 80 Hanover St., Manchester
When: Friday, June 2, through Sunday, June 25
Tickets: $25 to $45
Contact: 558-6688,

Legendary jam
Million Dollar Quartet chronicles session with rock icons

By Kelly Sennott

 In 1956, Sam Phillips, the owner of Sun Records, had the foresight to hit the “record” button when four rock icons — Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash — all happened to be in his studio at the same time and decided to hold an impromptu jam session.

The local paper, the Memphis Press-Scimitar, covered the event and took the iconic photo of the four sitting at the piano. The recordings were later released as The Million Dollar Quartet in Europe in 1981, and then as Elvis Presley: The Million Dollar Quartet in 1990 in the United States.
In Manchester, you can be a fly on the wall during that jam session — sort of — when the Palace Theatre presents the jukebox musical version of this story, Million Dollar Quartet, starting Friday, June 2, with performances through Sunday, June 25.
Palace Artistic Director Carl Rajotte said during an interview at the theater that the show has never been to Manchester before, but it did extremely well at the Ogunquit Playhouse and other nearby venues.
It’s not hard to see why. First and foremost, there’s the music, with almost 25 hits by the rock icons, like “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog,” “Great Balls of Fire” and “I Walk the Line.” And then there’s the thrill of being privy to one of the most important events in rock history. The musical, with book by Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott, was on Broadway in 2010, the West End in London in 2011, and was nominated for three Tony Awards. The plot is inspired by those recordings.
“There are scenes and dialogue throughout, which gives us a little bit of insight into who these guys were before they made it big,” Rajotte said. “It’s very, very interesting. We get a little peek of everything you heard on those tapes. And that’s the plot — everything you would have heard on those tapes. The fighting, the jamming between those four icons.”
All were in their early 20s at that point. That day, Perkins was set to record songs with Lewis, a newcomer, on the piano. Presley, most famous of the four at the time, had been in town for Christmas to give Phillips a gift. Cash was visiting to tell Phillips he was signing with a bigger label, Columbia Records.
Naturally, it’s difficult to cast this eight-person show, and it took a while for Rajotte to find Ben van Diepen (playing Lewis, who also plays piano),  Luke Linsteadt (Presley, playing guitar), Brett Benowitz (Perkins, on drums), Colin Barkell (Cash, on guitar) and Moot Davis (Phillips). 
“I had to find people who could really play, not just kind of play. … The first thing I was looking for was musicianship. Next was the vocals. Do they sound like these guys? And then, the look. Do they look like these guys?” Rajotte said. “[The actors] love this type of music and love that person they’re playing. You can see on their Facebooks how much they have been motivated to be musicians themselves because of these artists.”
Unlike most Palace shows, this one’s more about the music and less about the dancing, as actors need to learn the tunes and perform them exactly like these rock legends. 
Sets and costumes are courtesy of the National Tour, which are rented from the Ogunquit Playhouse.
“I really enjoy the side of designing the show, and so does my staff, but it’s nice if we can do this once or twice a year and ... alleviate our schedule a little bit so we could focus more on the next show,” Rajotte said.
Many actors’ backgrounds are in music, not musical theater. Like Davis, who “detests” musical theater but loves this show, having just come off a Million Dollar Quartet tour with Norwegian Cruise Line.
“I just get it. I love the music, and I also get the story, and understand what it’s like to be around musicians, and to try to herd them and get them to do what you want. I love the story,” Davis said.
Songs are performed like rock concerts, with changes in lighting, and at the end, there’s 15 minutes of straight music to lighten the mood after the last line from Phillips.
“It closes with him saying, ‘I wish these guys had happier times, before their lives, or careers, ended.’ For a lot of them, demons caught them in their career after they became famous,” Rajotte said. 

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