It really happened. One day in 1956, four up-and-coming musicians sat down to jam in the legendary Sun Records studio.
Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis laid down some tracks. Then their careers veered off in different directions.
Now, southern Alberta audiences have an opportunity to grasp some of that creative energy. New West Theatre is presenting “Million Dollar Quartet.” Straight from the 1960s, the music-filled show will run Wednesday to Saturday from Sept. 12 to Sept. 29.
It’s a Tony Award-winning musical from Broadway — the first scripted musical in New West’s performance history — and it’s based on sound checks from that once-in-a-lifetime jam session.
New West (and cruise ship entertainment) veteran Devon Brayne becomes Johnny Cash, just near the start of his long career. Presley and Cash were just starting to taste success, he points out.
“None of them were ‘legends’ yet,” adds Matt Cage, a longtime admirer of the young Elvis.
“You see some of the vulnerabilities and doubts,” he says.
Showgoers will also see why Toronto-based Cage, who’s performed in “Million Dollar” several times, has become one of Canada’s best-known tribute artists for “The King.”
The timing of that creative match-up was particularly significant, Brayne observes.
“They did country, rock, gospel, blues,” as they seemed to be coming together as an alternative to that era’s popular performers like Perry Como and Doris Day.
As well, it was when teenagers were taking over as an economic driver in the music industry.
But as for the performers? Cage says they feared that rock and roll would be short-lived.
“Is it just going to blow over?”
The world of recorded music was evolving fast.
Says Brayne, “They didn’t know what the people wanted.”
Fear not. Cash, Presley, Perkins and Lewis were among the performers that fans wanted, as the record charts proved. Now their biggest early-career hits are the focus of “Million Dollar Quartet” — a widely successful show that’s about to make its mark in local history as the first event in the re-engineered and reborn Yates Centre.
Kevin Owen Clarke is cast as Perkins in the New West run, with Hunter Semrau as Lewis. Supporting performers are Claire Lint, Doug Macarthur, Scott Mezei, Paul Holden and Theo Lysyk.
New West’s artistic director, Sharon Peat, is directing the show. Lint also serves as the show’s choreographer, while Mezei shares the music director’s role with Kathy Zaborsky.
The recording studio set was designed by Kathryn Smith, the costumes by Leslie Robison-Greene, with Robert Stanford as lighting designer and Jason Eveleigh as sound designer.
Showtime, Wednesday through Saturday until Sept. 29, is 7:30 p.m., plus three Saturday matinees at 1 p.m.
Tickets are available from Ticket Centre locations in the Enmax Centre and once again, at the Yates.