Broadway Reviews And My Thoughts On The Role of Jerry Lee

Collecting these reviews was the first time I have ever read them.

I know it’s generally irresistible – the actors need to tally up praises and put-downs. If they criticize you, the temptation to remedy a stranger’s complaint makes your performance impure. If they praise you, the temptation to play into the positive makes your performance impure. In a craft where ridding yourself of the ever so judgmental third eye is paramount, I would suggest we actors cling to our own inner compass, our acting coaches and our directors. And no one else.

I also never read the Tony award predictions that year. The entire time of this show I had a rule with my boyfriend (now husband) and with everyone in the theater. Tell me nothing. Period. Let me keep my efforts earnest, honest, and unaffected. I will always be this way as it’s just how I get the performance out of me.

I confess that with the extremely robust role of George McDuffy in the musical One Red Flower preceding my experience with Million Dollar Quartet, (read here the history of the show and how 9/11 ended what would have been my Broadway debut), I first looked down on this book. But moving forward with this musical taught me a very important lesson as a performer.

Our egos as thespians will long for roles that are nuanced, important, and counter-commercial as we believe the approval of the New York elite somehow increases the value of our craft. I won’t say that it doesn’t have weight. I respect it. But every audience member immediately knows the different between a performance that needs to prove its superiority and a performance that needs to make the real human out in the audience genuinely happy/moved/healed/escape. I point this out because twenty years in theater, you see performers that are takers and ones that are givers. “See me” verses “I see you!” Audiences know. And if you are an entertainer who is here to give, you have to guard that.

Because of that self awareness, it didn’t take me long to check myself and realize that I had actually stumbled upon a role that was going to make a lot of people from all social and economic backgrounds extremely happy. And hand to God, I surrendered myself to that very goal before one foot was ever on that Broadway stage each night.

A lot of actors playing the role after me somehow see him as merely arrogant. In my mind, he was never arrogant. Not at all. Completely wet behind the ears, yes. Socially unaware, painfully so. Inexcusably inappropriate, no doubt. But for me, it was about the desperation of poverty – the need to grip so tightly to the one thing that could bring him out of poverty, that there was no other choice but to convince anyone he could that he was worth the investment. The well being of his family depended on it. Having this very subtext underneath every scene, I believe kept the audience on my side as they could feel the earnestness behind the characters often erratic and fumbling efforts. It also made his gift of music that much more heroic as it was painfully apparent to all that it was the one thing he was good at. How many people in the audience do you think can relate to that? I sure can.

So MDQ teaches me that there is no role that cannot be a “ministry”. Smack me for using that word. I know it conjures bad memories for some of us born in the south. But you got the point. Every role is a generous gift to an audience. You just have to find the message.

Million Dollar Quartet Broadway Reviews

Reviews of Million Dollar Quartet on Broadway. See what all the critics had to say and see all the ratings for Million Dollar Quartet including the New York Times and More…

Critics’ Reviews

From: Hollywood Reporter | By: Frank Scheck | Date: 04/11/2010

One day in December 1956, four future musical legends — Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins — happened to gather together for an impromptu jam session at the Memphis studio of Sun Records. Don’t look for ‘Million Dollar Quartet,’ the new musical about this fortuitous event, to show what really happened that day. But this wildly entertaining show wonderfully captures the spirit of these seminal figures who would go on to change the course of popular music.

From: New Jersey Newsroom | By: Michael Sommers | Date: 04/11/2010

Lovers of old school rock ‘n’ roll will get a big bang out of ‘Million Dollar Quartet,’ a mighty slick jukebox musical powered by a dynamite song stack and dynamic portrayals of the four legends singing ‘em.

From: On Off Broadway | By: Matt Windman | Date: 04/11/2010

What exactly is it that makes the new musical ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ so damn enjoyable and invigorating? Is it the pure simplicity and rapid-fire energy of four rock ‘n’ roll legends performing their signature tunes for 100 blissful minutes? Is it the charisma and talent of the actors who portray these legendary figures Whatever the case, it’s one hell of a winner.

From: New York | By: Stephanie Zacharek | Date: 04/11/2010

Fans of fifties rock and roll tend to love it not just reasonably but feverishly, and with good reason: To listen to the recordings made by Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Carl Perkins at Sam Phillips’s Sun Records is to hear the future being born, heralded by jangly guitars, the thump-thump of a stand-up bass, and a piano with the jittery nerves of a brand-new dad. Million Dollar Quartet, a show poised delicately at the halfway point between a musical and a revue, distills that revolutionary spirit and splashes it out as a dazzling, raucous spectacle.

From: Washington Post | By: Peter Marks | Date: 04/12/2010

The musicianship sells this entertainment. If the rockabilly rhythms of Perkins or the proto-rocker antics of Lewis don’t set your heart to palpitating, then ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ will be lost on you. The calculation is that fans of early rock-and-roll and idolaters of Presley and Cash are of an age and economic level to fill the Nederlander’s pews. And for them, the musical will feel at times like a throbbing worship service.

From: New York Times | By: Charles Isherwood | Date: 04/12/2010

There’s a lot to like about this relatively scrappy variation on a familiar theme. “Million Dollar Quartet” has a pleasing modesty, taking place as it does on a single afternoon, Dec. 4, 1956, in the rattletrap recording studio of Sun Records in Memphis. Aficionados of the dinosaur days of rock will recognize this date’s momentousness. Mostly by chance, one of the great jam sessions in recording history took place there and then, as Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley all gathered to shoot the breeze, harmonize and strum their guitars or thunder away at the piano keys.

From: Variety | By: Steven Suskin | Date: 04/12/2010

Broadway’s parade of musicals for people who grew up on rock rather than show tunes continues with ‘Million Dollar Quartet,’ which eschews the music of Richard Rodgers and Stephen Sondheim for the sounds of Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. By placing the latter gentlemen among the dramatis personae and lacing the proceedings with a fair deal of historical dramatis, authors Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux and director Eric Schaeffer have come up with a crowdpleaser that mixes jukebox and story into a satisfying whole, while the knockout performances keep the joint jumpin’ with great balls of fire.

From: NY1 | By: Roma Torre | Date: 04/15/2010

Conceived by Floyd Mutrux, who wrote the book with Colin Escott, the musical has just enough of a compelling narrative to keep audiences hooked between numbers. The performers impressively flesh out the roles, revealing the early insecurities of the superstars to come.

From: Associated Press | By: Michael Kuchwara | Date: 04/11/2010

Eric Schaeffer, who runs the Signature Theatre in Washington’s Virginia suburbs, has staged the show with a minimum of fuss. The book heads toward a glum confrontation between Phillips and several of the singers, who are leaving Sun Records for more lucrative contracts with larger recording labels. Yet the gloom is dispelled quickly when ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ finishes up its curtain calls with high-voltage renditions of ‘Hound Dog,’ ‘Ghost Riders in the Sky,’ ‘See You Later Alligator’ and the appropriately titled ‘Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On.’ Of course, they get the cheering audience to its feet.

From: Wall Street Journal | By: Terry Teachout | Date: 04/16/2010

Don’t go to ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ looking for great acting. Three members of the front line are not professional actors (Mr. Guest is the ringer), and the book, by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, is tissue-thin. This is the kind of show that goes flat whenever the characters stop singing and start talking. Fortunately, they do plenty of the former and not too terribly much of the latter, and Eric Schaeffer, the director, has staged the show so skillfully as to minimize the thespian shortcomings of its less experienced cast members.

From: Chicago Tribune | By: Chris Jones | Date: 04/11/2010

Folks are paying a lot of money and some of them like to know where that money went. But the finale is really about the music. And in this case, the money would have been far better spent on hiring a decent dramatic writer who could have added some subtlety and veracity to a crude book from Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux that still dispenses thudding anecdote, easy trivia and crude linkage instead of the live, credible, complex conversation of a quintet of icons of American rock ‘n’ roll.

From: Entertainment Weekly | By: Clark Collis | Date: 04/11/2010

The trouble begins when the singing stops. In many ways, of course, this was also true for these four rock celebrities, who were, in their different ways, rather troubled personalities. You don’t get much a sense of that from their banter between songs. Actually, it is only Lewis and Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster) who are given any kind of emotional depth in Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux’ script. The writers also struggle to build a narrative around Phillips’ plan to re-sign the clearly reluctant Cash for another three-year contract. Those familiar with the 2007 rock biopic spoof Walk Hard — in which John C. Reilly’s country star is haunted by the memory of accidentally cutting his brother in half with a machete — may also raise an amused eyebrow when Cash, Presley, and Lewis fall to discussing their respective deceased siblings.

From: Time Out New York | By: Adam Feldman | Date: 04/14/2010

The target audience appears to be tourists who couldn’t land tickets to Branson, Missouri, much less Jersey Boys, but the performers do pull out the stops. Lance Guest’s subterranean bass is right on the money for Cash, and Robert Britton Lyons and Eddie Clendening form a respectable rockabilly club as Perkins and Presley, respectively. Hunter Foster frets efficiently as Sun king Sam Phillips; Elizabeth Stanley, pretty in pink, adds welcome distaff support as Elvis’s girlfriend. But the night belongs to Levi Kreis, who gives a killer performance as the florid piano showman Jerry Lee Lewis: With the pounding he gives them, it’s a wonder the keys stay on the board.

From: Back Stage | By: David Sheward | Date: 04/11/2010

When the curtain call is the most exciting part of a show, it’s definitely a problem. Such is the case with “Million Dollar Quartet,” the latest attempt to turn pop nostalgia into Broadway box-office gold. Not unlike “Looped,” the now-closed comedy derived from a Tallulah Bankhead story, this jukebox musical attempts to spin a showbiz anecdote about larger-than-life figures at a recording session into a full-blown theatrical experience.

From: New York Observer | By: Jesse Oxfeld | Date: 04/13/2010

The only dramatic tension ginned up is that Johnny Cash plans to leave Sun and sign with Columbia, but he can’t bring himself to tell Phillips. Finally, he does, and Phillips is angry. Briefly. Then they have a drink, all is forgiven and it’s time for the finale. The set—the Sun studio, done up in red leather and silver crown moldings, like a hip steakhouse—disappears, and the band rocks through a final five tracks. This, at last, is what you’re here for, and it only took about 90 minutes to arrive.

From: USA Today | By: Elysa Gardner | Date: 04/12/2010

The plot, for anyone who cares, is a truncated, oversimplified retelling of the artists’ successes and struggles with Sun, whose legendary founder, Sam Phillips, also is a character. The musicians are relegated to stereotypes: Presley is the gentle but ambitious charmer, Perkins the righteous maverick, Cash the religious family man, Lewis the boastful upstart.

From: New York Post | By: Elisabeth Vincentelli | Date: 04/12/2010

The problem is that these four stars are played by journeymen. Only Levi Kreis, as Jerry Lee Lewis, projects any kind of energy. Lance Guest displays an impressive baritone as Cash, but he trips on half his spoken lines. Robert Britton Lyons’ Carl Perkins barely registers, even though the character has a chip on his shoulder that could have made for good drama — if, you know, the show had been remotely interested in drama. Worse of all, Eddie Clendening’s Elvis is completely neutered. It’s impossible to picture this guy driving millions of women crazy. Even the girlfriend who accompanies him to the studio, Dyanne (Elizabeth Stanley, from ‘Cry-Baby’), seems vaguely bored.