It all happened a long time ago but for one night in December 1956 they all came together at Sun Studios in Memphis. Sam Phillips was the visionary that had set up the ‘Memphis Recording Service’ in 1950 with a portable tape recorder. His breakthrough was in signing a young local lad named Elvis Presley who had recorded a song for his mom a year earlier. For music historians his further signings who came together on that day would be known after the event as the Million Dollar Quartet.
So Elvis was joined by Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and a young Jerry Lee Lewis as the story begins and all set in that famous recording room. Almost immediately we are joined by Sam Phillips and played by the highly talented Jason Donovan. Last seen in Edinburgh with Priscilla Queen Of The Desert I did wonder what attracted him to this (apparent) supporting role. But no, although he can only be heard as backing vocalist on stage here he is the lynchpin holding this whole show together with narrative, drama and commentary. It is a huge part and without him this would be just a music session – which oddly was what the original encounter was back in the day.
So we hear of the contracts, conflicts and charisma of these disparate characters interspersed with some timeless music played live with supporting bass and drums right there on stage. The musicianship is key to the success of this show as is the interaction between the stars. There are a lot of songs from the era and too many to list here but do watch the guitar fireworks from Matthew Wycliffe (as Carl Perkins) and particularly the dexterity of Martin Kaye as Jerry Lee Lewis – his piano technique ranges from the text book JLL licks to the pure minimalism but so effective on Fever, the Peggy Lee song sung here by Katie Ray who plays Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne. So we have one legendary night in Memphis and a full showcase of live songs like the concert they never gave but created here to ensure rockin’ in the rows.
Festival Theatre Edinburgh until Nov 5