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story.lead_photo.caption The Million Dollar Quartet assembles at the Arkansas Repertory Theatre -- (from left) Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, Brandyn Day as Jerry Lee Lewis, Trent Rowland as Elvis Presley and Skye Scott as Carl Perkins. Special to the Democrat-Gazette/Brandon Markin

There's a cadre of performers, perhaps 20 actor-musicians (or musician-actors) who travel the country performing Million Dollar Quartet.

They play — and play the music of — Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, the four nascent rock 'n' rollers whom now-legendary Sun Records studio owner and producer Sam Phillips brought together for an unprecedented and historic jam and recording session in Memphis on Dec. 4, 1956.

The so-called "jukebox musical," including the songs "Blue Suede Shoes," "Fever," "Walk the Line," "Sixteen Tons," "Who Do You Love?," "Great Balls of Fire," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" and "Hound Dog," and with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, is onstage through Oct. 6 at Little Rock's Arkansas Repertory Theatre.

The actors — Trent Rowland as Presley, Bill Scott Sheets as Cash, Skye Scott as Perkins and Brandyn Day as Lewis — play all the music (with help from Brian Wolverton as Jay Perkins on bass and David W. Lincoln as W.S. "Fluke" Holland on the drums). Karack Osborn as Phillips and Alyssa Gardner as Dyanne round out the cast.

All four principals are part of that score of accomplished "millionaires." Day is doing his 10th production, totaling hundreds of performances; Rowland and Sheets are doing at least their fifth. In addition to playing Cash in Quartet productions, Sheets has also played Cash in Ring of Fire.

"It's a very small community," Sheets says. "I didn't know Brandyn [before this production], but I know seven of his friends."

"And Brandyn and I grew up 20 minutes apart, and had never met," Rowland adds.

Gallery: Million Dollar Quartet at Arkansas Repertory Theatre

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"The show has its own family," Scott explains. "That relates to the show itself — it's about creating a family; it creates all this history."

Scott, for example, plays Perkins' guitar licks that have been passed down from Perkins to a friend who helped create the show. "Those guitar licks aren't written down anywhere," he says.

"We are the band," Sheets adds. "We have the same breath, we have the same beat. And we can't ever slack off on the lyrics, either."

But that is also an advantage each time a new production comes up. "We start out months, maybe years, in advance of any other show," Scott says. "And we're bringing all that experience in at day one," Sheets says.

Special events

Special events before and during the run of Million Dollar Quartet:

• Panel discussion with cast members and creative team, noon today, Sturgis Hall, Clinton School of Public Service, 1200 President Clinton Ave., Little Rock.

• Director’s talk, 6:15 p.m., ahead of today’s second preview, 7 p.m. Also, Beer Night with Diamond Bear Brewing Co.

• Opening night champagne reception, after Friday’s show

• “Pay Your Age Night,” Saturday for patrons age 22-40; 50 tickets available. With pre-show complimentary beverages from Zeteo Coffee, 7 p.m.

• “Beer Night” with Stone’s Throw Brewing, 6 p.m. Sept. 12

• Post-show talk back, Sept. 18.

Beyond the demands of the music — as Day notes, "there's no real score. What's on that page is nothing near what we're playing" — there is also the pressure that audience members are not just fans of all four musicians but people who know the songs backward and forward. Many knew the musicians in their lifetimes. (Some around here have been regaling cast members with nostalgic memories.)

Compounding things for this production: the proximity of Memphis, where the session took place and where Presley made his home, and Cash's northeast Arkansas childhood home and birthplace.

Director Hunter Foster, who played Sam Phillips on Broadway, has created his own version of the show, splitting it into two acts and adding back songs and a couple of dramatic moments that were cut from the original production.

"Doing Hunter's version for the first time, there were musical things that I'd never heard," Scott says.

Million Dollar Quartet

Preview: 7 p.m. today. Opening night: 8 p.m. Friday. Arkansas Repertory Theatre, 601 Main St., Little Rock. Curtain time: 7 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m. Sunday through Oct. 6.

Tickets: $20-$60 with discounts for full-time students, senior citizens and military personnel

(501) 378-0405

Foster, helming what he says is his 17th production, says he has added a song at the end of the first act that fuses "Rockin' Robin" and the gospel tune "I Shall Not Be Moved." The latter, he says, was actually done in the studio that night; the former didn't come along until a year or two later, so it's slightly anachronistic, but it's in the public domain (so he didn't have to pay for the rights to it) and, he says, it fits just right.

Foster says jokingly that he could walk back into a production as a performer.

"I keep waiting for someone to quit or get sick," he says with a laugh. "Caught in traffic, caught the flu, and me having to put on the costume."

Foster says it was too hard to re-create the actual shoe-box-size Sun Records studio, so the action takes place on what he calls a "fantasy set."

"It's more than just a 'jukebox musical,'" he says. "It's a memory play — Sam can remember the studio any way he wants."

Weekend on 09/05/2019

Print Headline: Rock 'n' roll heaven: Four music legends come alive through magic of Million Dollar Quartet


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