News Column

Worth a 'Million'

November 7, 2013

YellowBrix

Nov. 07--When men so famous we know them on a first-name basis get together, the world tends to take notice.

Such was the case when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins gathered one December day in 1956 for an impromptu recording session at Memphis' famed Sun Records. That historic and only meeting of the four music greats is recounted in "Million Dollar Quartet," a musical depicting the events and songs that made the men legends.

The musical, which won a Tony Award in 2010, rocks its way into the Gallo Center for the Arts on Nov. 15-17.

The man behind those men, who helped to kick-start their careers, was Sun Records founder Sam Phillips. The music impresario is played in "Million Dollar Quartet" by actor Vince Nappo, who most recently was seen in the ABC drama "Red Widow" and has been with the nationally touring show since last November.

"They all jammed together at Sun in Memphis and it actually really happened," Nappo said in a phone interview with The Bee from the road. "But what (the musical) is really about is Sam Phillips founding Sun Records and him founding the four of these guys. They all needed molding and for someone to unlock the talent within them. That's something Sam really had a knack for."

Throughout the show, Nappo's Phillips provides narration for that night and flashbacks to important moments in each man's career. But the musical is also packed with some of the singers' greatest hits, including "Blue Suede Shoes," "That's All Right," "Hound Dog," "Walk the Line," "Folsom Prison Blues," "Great Balls of Fire" and "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On."

"It really was like the dawn of a new era with this sort of music," Nappo said. "It really was a music revolution. I think a lot of people thought this rock 'n' roll was just a fad and it would fall away. But you can hear this music in the music that is being written now. It'll always be an influence. "

Nappo said one of the challenges in the production for him was to give life to a character not many people outside of music aficionados are familiar with. But he said it was just as challenging for his co-stars to inhabit the larger-than-life musical icons. Actors James Barry (as Perkins), John Countryman (Lewis), Tyler Hunter (Presley) and Scott Moreau (Cash) all had to do more than mere impersonations.

"They wanted to capture the spirit of those guys," Nappo said. "They've all done a really incredible job of finding a perfect balance and playing their instruments like nobody's business."

The musical made its Broadway debut in 2010. That year, original cast member Levi Kreis earned a Tony for his portrayal of Lewis. The production opened in London's West End a year later and also began touring nationally.

Nappo said the story of these men and their music is something that connects with audiences everywhere. "This stuff really strikes a chord with people -- people who have really fond memories of sitting in a room with their parents and growing up with that music. I hope we can take them back to this era."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2284. Follow her on Twitter @marijkerowland.

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(c)2013 The Modesto Bee (Modesto, Calif.)

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