Monday, October 20, 2008

Seven Guys and One Chick--The Musical

On the opposite end of the musical theater spectrum, far from the estrogen-soaked event that was Dirty Dancing, lies Million Dollar Quartet. I knew Friday night's trip to the Goodman Theater was going to be diametrically opposed to Wednesday's trip to the Palace. My first clue was that Ken and I decided to forgo dinner and go straight for the drinks. We drank our way through the theater district, and ended up in the lobby with just enough time for one more cocktail.

I watched the bartender fill my glass with vodka and top it with a splash of cranberry juice.

"The show's only ninety minutes," he said. "No intermission."

Ah, so it was going to be that kind of night.

On December 4, 1956, the sons of Sun Studio came home to roost with Sam Phillips, the man who had been the first to record them. Elvis had already signed with RCA; Johnny Cash was coming into his own; Carl Perkins hoped to surpass his Blue Suede Shoes success; and Jerry Lee Lewis was happy just to be signed. Fortune, and a little finagling on Sam Phillips' part, aligned the stars so Carl Perkin's ordinary studio session became a jam session that made history. The tapes contain 46 tracks and reveal a highly informal event that interspersed music with with what must have been the coolest bullshit session of all times. Million Dollar Quartet attempts to capture that night in ninety minutes.

Mezzanine seating rules. It's nice to be able to look down onto the stage and see all the action. Where the Dirty Dancing show made use of the entire stage and had all sorts of complicated devices and action, the Goodman recreated Sun Studios using only a small portion, including a sidewalk area just outside the door, a dais for the upright bass and the drum set, a piano in the corner and the sound booth opposite. Three microphone stands faced the audience.

It was a musical in the purest sense of the word. "Jerry Lee" was nuttier than squirrel shit, busting Carl's chops relentlessly and hamming it up brilliantly on the piano. Elvis and Carl should have switched, because "Carl" looked more like "Elvis", but whatever. They both did great jobs capturing Presley's and Perkins' sounds and styles. "Johnny Cash" looked and sounded enough like Johnny Cash, too. These guys all have jobs as impersonators when the show ends.

"Jay Perkins", played the part of the session's upright bassist and Carl's brother. And then there's The Drummer. The poor drummer not only didn't even get a name in the play, he didn't get a line, either (the drummer's name was W.S. Holland, as per Wikipedia). I could tell The Drummer has worked on his "look", though. The lone female presence in the studio session was Elvis' girlfriend, "Dyanne". While she, The Drummer and Jay Perkins all play bit parts, they're well done nonetheless and are integral to the show. Only the Sam Phillips character neither played an instrument nor sang, but in many ways, it was his story.

Instead of bursting into song and dance musical-style, it seemed an organic movement between shooting the shit and suddenly being in the midst of a song. The fast-paced script and all-over-the-place music reflected the informality of the recordings. It was about having fun and enjoying the moment together, not making a commercially viable record. Although I have no doubt the script went beyond taking liberties with the actual recordings and took way off into the realm of fiction, the script served to illustrate where each of the artists were in their lives at that particular moment.

Obviously, Presley was already a tremendous success when the event occurred. But we learned how it is that covering Perkins' break-out hit Blue Suede Shoes helped cement his fame, the kind which Perkins never quite realized. We find out more about Cash's desires to just sing some gospel, already, and all of the resistance he felt from the music industry. We find out more about Lewis' balls to the wall insanity and Phillips' business and artistic acumen.

While the music certainly rocked, there was a bittersweet quality because we all know how their stories ended. Their personal dynamics were touched upon, which illuminated some of the particulars of their lives, and certainly helped identify the spirit of the time (I refuse to use the word zeitgeist. Oh, shit. Did I just say zeitgeist?). More than identifying who these guys were and what they did, the show offered a peek into what it might have been like in that studio, to see what kind of fun it must have been to imbibe that sweet liqueur of pure musical genius.

Verdict: Best musical ever. It's very manly, so you guys won't have to worry about sprouting a vagina if you actually admit to yourselves you want to see it. If/when it comes to your town, get some tickets. No one won't like this show. It'll get and keep your attention--just like this post title did. Pervs.


Anonymous said...

The title didn't affect me at all. I have a rule, only one penis per fantasy. That penis is mine.

Nora said...

Thank you for clarifying, River.

Anonymous said...

Well you called me a pervert about the title, I had to set the record straight.

Now if you would made the title of the post, Tijuana Donkey might of been a different comment.

Nora said...

Hm. Yes. You have a point ... I'm going to save that for a different post that will trick you into reading something girly. Shit. You'll be on to my strategy. Still, though. Catchy little title.