By Christopher Trela| LB Indy
December 6, 1956. Four musical icons – Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis – gather for an impromptu jam session at Sun Records, a one-room recording studio in Memphis, Tenn., where they all launched their careers.
This historic musical meeting of the “Million Dollar Quartet” is the inspiration for the 2018 jukebox musical of the same name, which runs at Laguna Playhouse through July 29.
The show features 21 timeless classics, including “Hound Dog,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” and “Great Balls of Fire,” performed by actor-musicians who invoke the spirit, and mannerisms, of the original singers.
Fellow Indy writer Shelly Zavala and I saw a performance of “Million Dollar Quartet” recently preceded by dinner next door at the new Terra restaurant on the Festival of Arts grounds.
The restaurant is restricted to patrons of the Festival or Pageant of the Masters. We saved our ticket stubs from the Pageant, which allows free admission to the Festival of Arts all summer.
Terra replaces the Tivoli Terrace restaurant that had been at the Festival of Arts for many years. Terra has a refreshed look and a new menu courtesy of executive chef Jenny Messing.
The menu is succinct: four salads, six entrees, five desserts, and a cheese and charcuterie board for sharing. No appetizers or sides, which made ordering simple.
Shelly had trouble deciding between honey-lime seared salmon, slow braised lamb shank and maple brined pork shank. She settled on the salmon ($29), which was topped with a sweet-spicy pineapple and ginger citrus salsa and avocado cream drizzle, served over a bed of herbed basmati rice.
Not one to normally order a salad as an entrée, I changed my mind when I read the description of the grilled chicken, shaved fennel and zucchini ribbon salad ($22) which included goat cheese, heirloom tomatoes, basil, pine nuts, and lemon vinaigrette.
While waiting for our dinner, we ordered drinks: a lemon drop martini for Shelly, and a glass of Cambria pinot noir for me. Shelly loved her martini, but the wine was served warm (not the preferred 55-60 degrees cellar temperature), disappointing for a nice $15 glass of wine.
We enjoyed our entrees and, having time before the show, ordered dessert: Viennese spiced carrot cake ($8) for Shelly, and rosemary-lemon olive oil cake with fresh berry trifle ($10) served in a glass goblet for me. We devoured our desserts—the olive oil cake was particularly noteworthy in that the flavors invoked a summer garden.
After dinner we strolled the arts grounds and then made our way next door to Laguna Playhouse.
“The Million Dollar Quartet” was all we had hoped for and more. The story revolves around Sam Phillips, founder of Sun Records, and how he launched the careers of Presley, Cash, Jerry Lee and Perkins while fighting off advances from larger record companies and trying to stay afloat by nabbing the next big hit.
The actors who embodied the rock legends are first rate musicians. Austin Hohnke as Carl Perkins is an excellent guitarist and singer. Peter Oyloe as Johnny Cash may not have replicated Cash’s baritone delivery, but he had the Man in Black’s musical mannerisms down, including the way Cash held and strummed his guitar.
Daniel Durston as Elvis Presley wisely did not try to emulate Presley’s distinct vocal style, but his gyrations and delivery invoked the spirit of Presley.
Billy Rude as Jerry Lee Lewis is a revelation. Not only did he seem to channel Jerry Lee’s buoyant personality and anxious charm, but his exuberant and delirious piano playing was spot on.
Hugh Hysell more than held his own as the hopelessly upbeat Sam Phillips.
Backing musicians Jon Rossi on drums and Bill Morey on bass proved to be accomplished musicians—Morey twirled and slapped his bass like a man possessed.
This thoroughly enjoyable romp had the audience on its feet for the finale. Whether you lived through that musical era or are just hearing about it, “Million Dollar Quartet” is worth every penny.