Rare Jam Session Transforms for Stage

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“Million Dollar Quartet” is equal parts concert and drama, now on stage at Laguna Playhouse.
“Million Dollar Quartet” is equal parts concert and drama, now on stage at Laguna Playhouse.

Equal parts concert and narrative drama, “Million Dollar Quartet” revisits the impromptu  one-night jam session in a Memphis studio of four legends in rock, blues and country music.

The confluence of characters – Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins — who owe their careers to the single-minded focus of recording studio founder Sam Phillips, provides the backdrop for the production now on stage at Laguna Playhouse.

The real-life drama played out on Dec. 4, 1956, when Perkins went to Sun Records to start recording new material. Three other artists whose careers were gaining momentum thanks in part to Phillips’ nurturing also stop by and the session fortuitously was recorded.

On stage, the “Quartet” cast performs double duty, both channeling the antic mannerisms and voices of the influential artists, but also masterfully playing their instrument of choice on a score of their best-known tunes. As befits the manic behavior of recording artist Jerry Lee Lewis, actor Billy Rude steals the show with his showy piano playing.

In the gospel hit “Peace in the Valley,” Daniel Durston most perfectly captured Presley’s sound. In “I Walk the Line, Peter Oyloe nailed the gravely baritone of Cash.

Supporting cast members include Austin Hohnke as Perkins, Hugh Hysell as Phillips, Tiffan Borelli as Presley’s girlfriend and backing musicians Bill Morey and Jon Rossi.

From “Folsom Prison Blues” to “Long Tall Sally,” “Ghost Riders in the Sky” to “Great Balls of Fire,” the audience is treated to a set of classic early rock songs.

And yet the show is more than a soundtrack from the ‘50s and ‘60s. Its characters reveal their mixed feelings over severing ties with Phillips to seek fatter paydays with a corporate label. The plot also focuses attention on Phillips’ knack for recognizing talent and his outsize industry impact, releasing 226 singles between 1952 and 1968.

The show runs through Sunday, July 29. Tickets of $75 to $105 can be purchased at 949 497-2787.



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