Photo courtesy of Michele Anliker/Encore Theatre
Throw on your "Blue Suede Shoes" and get ready for a hoot and a holler down at The Encore Theater in Dexter MI, who've just put on a fantastic rendition of the iconic and timeless production of "Million Dollar Quartet" a rock and roll musical about how, at one point in time, Jerry Lee Lewis, Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash all sang under one roof. As they might say in 1956 that's groovy.
Under the set design of Thalia Schramm and Greg Brand, with help from the Dexter Builders, the production does look like a million bucks and lifelong fans of this iconic group, and those new to the show will find themselves well invested in where the story is going. Director Tobin Hissong has struck gold with his pitch perfect casting. Specifically Marek Sapieyevski stepping into the shoes of Jerry Lee Lewis. It’s one thing to have an actor that can exemplify all the best mannerisms and qualities of one of the greatest piano players of all time, it’s another to have an actor that controls the keys and flow of the musicality so ceaselessly. The same can be said for the rest of this cast: Stephen Shore has been “everywhere man” playing Johnny Cash (a part that isn’t necessarily the biggest role, but I’d wager the hardest to cast). Then you have Josh White playing a musician, you might’ve heard of, by the name of Elvis Presley. The key for this role is to not overdo the theatrics of Elvis, which means you can’t just do an impersonation. Thankfully, White has the knack down with all the charisma and charm you’d expect, he’s fun to watch. And rounding out the quartet is Alex Canty playing the legendary Carl Perkins and thus completing the chemistry full circle.
The story, which follows the rise of these four inside an abandoned auto parts store turned recording studio called Sun Records, is equal parts engaging and lively. Which should be attributed to Hissong’s spitfire direction and R. MacKenzie Lewis’s solid musical direction. You’ll be able to spot Lewis on stage the whole time occupying a bass instrument, as this show doesn’t necessitate a full blown orchestra accustomed for most musicals. All you need is an ensemble that can play their instruments like their life depended on it. And this cast defiantly has the chops.
While this is more so a show about the men of rock and roll, Kaitlyn Weickel does sneak into the spotlight playing Dyanne, and she propels songs like “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking” forward beautifully, even if her character is created solely for dramatic purposes. And Jim Walke handles the daunting task of narrator and head honcho Sam Phillips - the lead executive and founder of Sun Records - wonderfully. He has to keep the story moving, while orchestrating the guys on stage.
The creative components are all in place with The Encores production, and singing along with the entire audience to hits like “Hound Dog” and “See You Later Alligator” is a rare treat ever experienced in theatre. You’ll likely want to buy your tickets early, as The Encore only seats about 100 patrons, but it’s very much worth the price of admission. This isn’t just another show, it’s an ode to the pioneers and dreamers that made this genre of music a reality.
One last note I’d like to accolade is to the performance of the song “Down By The Riverside” which involves the entire company: clapping, stomping, and harmonizing oh so eloquently that it’s impossible not to feel giddy and excited. There isn’t a better feeling when viewing a musical like this in its entirety.
IF YOU GO:
“Million Dollar Quartet” continues its run at The Encore Musical Theatre Company through February 25th. To purchase tickets and find out showtimes you can call 734-268-6200 or visit www.theencoretheatre.org.