Million Dollar Quartet Review, The Barn Theatre – 6th June – 16th July

Rock ‘n’ Roll music buffs get ready to be entertained beyond your wildest dreams. Inspired by a true story, MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET recounts the tale of the once-in-a-lifetime recording session arranged by music producer Sam Phillips on the December 4th1956. It marked a music milestone in history when four young legendary musicians, Elvis Presley (played by AJ Jenks), Johnny Cash (played by Lucas Koch), Jerry Lee Lewis (Joe Bence) and Carl Perkins (played by Jay Osborne) converged on the Sun Records studio in Memphis for some impromptu music-making.

 A Tony award-winning Broadway musical smash hit with book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux and original concept and direction by Floyd Mutrux, MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET will literally knock your socks off.

There’s more than just music on offer here, however. The Barn Theatre’s production draws out a lot about the individual characters of the famous four, their common experiences and their roots; and that intriguing mix of personalities adds to the tension and conflict we witness throughout the show.

Sam Phillips (played by Simon Shorten), who’s turned an old radiator shop into the pioneering Sun studio and who hosts the get-together, is described by one of the group as “the father of rock’n’roll.” The story records the poignant moment at which the “sons” abandon the surrogate father. Elvis has already been sold to RCA and become a Hollywood star, and the others now accept that it is time to move on. But though the show pinpoints the eclipse of Sun Studio and the tensions within the group, such as Perkins’s resentment of Presley’s refashioning of Blue Suede Shoes, what we see on stage is a celebration. It’s a real joy to hear once again numbers such as Hound Dog, Great Balls of Fire and I Walk the Line and what I love about the Barn’s take on this production is how they’ve brought a contemporary feel to it in order to appeal to a new generation of rock ‘n’ rollers.

The question I had in my head before seeing this production was how close to the originals would the cast be? Although the Barn’s version doesn’t set out to be a “look alike” show, Joe Bence does a particularly good job of conveying the anarchic wildness of Jerry Lee Lewis with AJ Jenks’ as Elvis, Lucas Koch as Johnny Cash and Jay Osborne as Carl Perkins offering great substance to their respective characters. Simon Shorten, as Phillips, displays a hint of an autocratic entrepreneur as the pathfinder, storytelling “narrator,” and Olivia-Faith Kamau as Elvis’ squeeze, Dyanne, offers a notably sultry, microphone-caressing version of Fever. They both add a great dimension to a show that taps into all our yesterdays. Lucas Koch’s version of Walk the Line is as close to a Johnny Cash voice as I’ve ever heard. Praise must also go to the outstanding accompaniment on bass and drums by Joe Butcher and Melker Nilsson. Finally, the show is worth coming to just for the finale scene reveal, which is a real “oh Wow” moment!

The show is expertly directed by Alex Sutton, supported by movement director, Maria Graciano. Mix that with the pitch perfect detail of often complex harmonies and foot tapping rhythms, arranged by musical director, Sam Beveridge, and you have a high energy show of notable calibre.

Mike Leopold’s set design is dominated by two columns of vinyl records that lavishly frame a stage filled with authentic guitars and amps to illustrate a working recording studio. Great costumes by Denise Cleal, coupled with excellent lighting and sound design by Andy Webb and Chris Cleal make this a rockin-rollin’ show that hits every delicious note of a fab night out at the Barn!

This wildly entertaining show wonderfully captures the spirit of these seminal figures who would go on to change the course of popular music. The Barn’s production of A MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET is a real crowd pleaser that mixes jukebox and story into a satisfying whole.

I witnessed dozens of audience members after the show with a swing in their step, humming the songs and dancing as they walked — the clearest evidence one would need of the Barn’s success in capturing the contagious spirit of rock ’n’ roll. Million Dollar Quartet is another massive Barn hit, to rank with the best! Don’t miss it.


Tickets from as little as £10 per person. To book your tickets go to barntheatre.org.uk or call Barn Theatre box office on 01285 648255.

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