theREP Wraps Up the Capital Region’s Perfect Holiday Gift With a Musical Bow

When you have a hit, why not follow it up with a sequel you hope will be a hit of equal proportions?

“Million Dollar Quartet” is loosely based on the events of a recording session at Sun Studios in Memphis on Dec. 4, 1956, when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and newcomer Jerry Lee Lewis were brought together by Sun’s founder Sam Phillips. The jukebox musical captivated the hearts and spirits of theater audiences.

The show was such a hit, Colin Escott decided to roll the dice again with a Christmas show based on the same evening.

Not quite as successful as the initial outing, “Million Dollar Quartet Christmas” is no less entertaining and enjoyable. Anyone looking for a rocking good evening of song will be enthralled, as was the case with theREP’s opening-night audience. The story is a bit lost; the narrator, who moved the action along, has shifted from Phillips in the original to Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, who accompanied him that evening. She isn’t given enough time to build the story and Phillips doesn’t leave the control room enough to bolster the plot.

No worries, though: The music is what this show is all about.

James Barry makes his REP directorial debut. The co-producing artistic director of the Chester Theatre Company in Chester, Massachusetts, is no stranger to the world of “Million Dollar Quartet.” Having appeared onstage in more than 700 performances and directed numerous productions, he brings a strong sense of understanding to the characters and the show. Barry allows each of his performers the opportunity to have the limelight, move the action along and still maintain the feeling of a tight-knit ensemble.

It is nearly impossible to pick a favorite of the four lead actors and their roles. Matt Cusack offers a magnificent Johnny Cash. His deep, gravel bass is rich and captures much of the tenor of the late star.

Luke Monday embodies Elvis Presley, from the swiveling hips and gyrations to the soulful voice that made a generation swoon, Monday is the complete package. Jeremy Sevelovitz is arguably one of the finest lead guitarists to appear on any stage in recent memory. He has perhaps the more difficult role of creating the character of the late Carl Perkins, who never achieved the level of fame of the others.

Sevelovitz fits in perfectly with this group. Finally, Billy Rude, most recently seen in the area as Jerry Lee Lewis in “MDQ” at Berkshire Theatre Company’s production this past summer, plays the part as if he were born to it. From Lewis’ piano antics to his swagger to his voice, Rude is Jerry Lee Lewis incarnate.

The remaining four characters, Taylor Aronson as Dyanne; Rob Morrison as Sam Phillips; Jason Cohen as bass player Jay; and Ian Kerr-Mace as Fluke the percussionist all fit beautifully into the studio as if they were the originals.

Musically, there is not a weak link in the cast. Each one has their moments to shine, but it is during the full company numbers that their sounds blend to perfection and the harmonies joyously ring out to capture the feeling and spirit of the season and the roles these actors are inhabiting.

The cast is beautifully presented on a stunning set designed by Christopher Rhoton with lighting by Jeff Adelberg. Costumes by Howard Tsvi Kaplan and wigs by Michael Dunn perfectly create the illusion of the period. Matt Cusak’s musical direction and Freddie Ramirez’s choreography round out an ideal presentation that is guaranteed to make today’s audiences swoon as the ones so many years ago did when faced with the real stars.

“Million Dollar Quartet Christmas” offers no heavy message beyond enjoy and relax. It won’t solve any problems, but you might just forget for a little while. TheREP has chosen wisely this season at a time when we all could use the opportunity to escape and have a respite from all that is swirling around us.

“Million Dollar Quartet Christmas” runs through Dec. 24. at 251 North Pearl St. in Albany. For ticket information or reservations, visit attherep.org or call 518-346-6204.

Bill Kellert is a Nippertown contributor.

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