It’s a musical based on one of the most famous photos and recording sessions in early rock and roll history. Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash are clustered around a piano at the famous Sun Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, recording in December 1956.
This meeting of the pioneers of rock figures in the musical “Million Dollar Quartet,” featuring big hits from each of these artists. The show makes a stop on Oct. 6 at Grand Sierra Resort.
Among the songs played are “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “That’s All Right,” “Long Tall Sally,” “I Walk the Line,” “Ring of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On.”
According to the official "Million Dollar Quartet" website, the touring cast of the show includes Jacob Rowley as Presley, Scott Moreau as Cash, Colte Julian as Lewis and Bowling as Perkins. There is also a part for legendary Sun Studio owner Sam Phillips (played by Bryan Langlitz) and a character named Dyanne, who is a singer and Presley’s girlfriend.
The musical was conceived by writer/directors Floyd Mutrux and Colin Escott and was first performed in Florida in 2006. After productions in various locations, including a long run in Chicago, “Million Dollar Quartet” played on Broadway in 2010 and 2011. A West End version was also staged in London from 2011 to 2013. A U.S. tour version of the musical has been traveling on and off since 2011.
All four of the portrayed artists had important careers after their starts with Sun Records in Memphis. The story of Presley is the best known, as after leaving Sun for RCA, he became one of the most popular pop performers of all time, as well as a film actor and one of the first rock artists to make a foothold in the Vegas showroom scene. He died in August 1977.
Cash also achieved great success after his work with Sun. Joining Columbia Records, Cash straddled the worlds of country, pop, folk, rock and gospel music throughout his career. He also had an impressive, critically acclaimed final act as a solo performer for Rick Rubin’s American Recordings He died in September 2003.
At age 81, Lewis is still active in the recording and touring world. Like Cash, his wild piano-playing stuff transferred from rockabilly to country music well, and he had several hits over many decades. Perkins, who died in January 1998, didn’t have the blockbuster success of his “Million Dollar” peers, but he is considered a legendary songwriter and pioneer of rockabilly, with several of his songs recorded by the Beatles during their early heyday.
The actual “Million Dollar” session wasn’t released for many years. A portion of the session was first released by British label Charly in 1981 as “The Million Dollar Quartet,” followed by a release by Presley’s RCA Records label in 1990. The latest version came out in 2006 from a source recording by Presley himself, and featuring the entire session in sequence.