Million Dollar Quartet Christmas Review

An Impromptu Jam Session by Four Future Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Giants Has Become One of Those Showbiz Gifts That Keeps on Giving

On Dec. 4, 1956, Sun Records founder Sam Phillips wanted to record some new tracks with Carl Perkins, whose “Blue Suede Shoes” had been a hit for Perkins and Sun superstar Elvis Presley.

Phillips brought in the young Jerry Lee Lewis to play piano on the session. And then two other Phillips stars – Presley, whose contract had been sold to RCA to keep Sun Records afloat, and Johnny Cash, who was about to jump ship to Columbia Records – came by the Memphis studio. When the four started jamming, the Sun engineer pressed “record,” and a one-time-only group dubbed the Million Dollar Quartet made a piece of music history.

Million Dollar Quartet Christmas Review
Eddie Clendening as Elvis Presley and Lindsey Corey, as the Sultry Singer, Dyanne.

In 2006 at the Seaside Music Theatre in Daytona Beach, that night and those stars spawned “Million Dollar Quartet,” a piece of musical theater jam-packed with hits. The show would become a major production at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in 2008, then on Broadway in 2010, followed by Off-Broadway, London, a tour and productions at theaters all over the United States – including two by Actors’ Playhouse in Coral Gables.

With the smash success of those 2016 and 2018 productions at the Miracle Theatre, it’s no surprise that Actors’ Playhouse and artistic director David Arisco would go back to the “Million Dollar” well to kick off the company’s 35th anniversary season.

While the new show, “Million Dollar Quartet Christmas,” isn’t precisely a sequel – it takes place on the same night as the original, because Elvis, Johnny, Carl, and Jerry Lee got together just one time – it serves up a fresh collection of songs linked by a different story.

Million Dollar Quartet Christmas Review
Million Dollar Quartet Christmas Review
The Entire Cast Raising the Roof – Front Left to Right: Dominique Scott as Jerry Lee Lewis, Jeremy Sevelovitz as Carl Perkins Lindsey Corey as Diane, Sky Seals as Johny Cash, Eddie Clendening as Elvis Presley Rear Left to Right: Jonny Bowler on Bass David Sonneborn on Drums Gregg Weiner as Sam Phillips

The music, as anyone in the delighted Actors’ audience would tell you, is sung and played to a fare-thee-well by talented actor-musicians who have been part of one or both of the company’s “Million Dollar Quartet” productions.

Colin Escott’s new book, however, pales in comparison to his Tony Award-nominated original (he co-wrote the first one with Floyd Mutrux). All the really good stuff about these stars – jealousies, betrayals, gossip – was used in “Million Dollar Quartet.” Escott struggled to construct a story not half as compelling, and no amount of finesse on the part of the performers and Arisco can disguise that.

Fortunately, theatergoers aren’t focused on listening to the characters talk to each other. They want to hear the music, the hits, like Elvis singing “Blue Christmas,” thank you very much. And they do. Led by Arisco and musical director Dominique Scott, who’s reprising his Carbonell Award-winning role as Jerry Lee Lewis, the actors deliver the vocal and instrumental goods.

Eddie Clendening, who played Elvis on Broadway and in the first Actors’ production, is back as the King, again with a sultry singer named Dyanne in tow (Lindsey Corey, here a redhead in a fits-like-a-glove red velvet dress). Sky Seals is back as Cash, Jeremy Sevelovitz as Perkins, with David Sonneborn on drums and Jonny Bowler on bass. Gregg Weiner has returned as Phillips, whom he first played at Actors’ in 2018.

Lindsey Corey and Sky Seals Sing as Gregg Weiner Records

Solos, duets, and songs by the cast as a whole flow like spiked eggnog at a company Christmas party. Clendening’s Elvis croons “Don’t Be Cruel,” a yearning “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” and a lovely duet with Seals’ Cash on “Silent Night.” Seals sends a happy jolt through the audience with “Ring of Fire,” and Sevelovitz’s Perkins blazes on guitar as he sings “Cotton Top.”

Scott, playing the controversial rock ‘n’ roll legend who passed away just last month, is a wild man as Lewis, singing “Chantilly Lace,” “Boogie Woogie Santa Claus,” and “Bad Kid,” topping himself during the concert-style finale.

Corey adds vocal spice with a sultry “Santa Baby” and other tunes, but her mission appears to be slinking around the studio and draping her arm over this musician or that one. Weiner plays Phillips in a pleasant, low-key way rather than as a music pioneer facing the loss of the stars he helped create. The design team, meanwhile, effectively re-creates the “Million Dollar” Sun studio, the period looks of the actors, and the shifting moods of different songs.

In going back to the creative well, “Million Dollar Quartet Christmas” may not deliver as reliably as its predecessor. But it is a rollicking holiday mood-enhancing experience for music lovers looking for a different way to get into the spirit of the season. 

Million Dollar Quartet Christmas

Actors’ Playhouse in the Balcony Theater
Miracle Theatre, 280 Miracle Mile
8 Pm Wed.-sat., 8 Pm, Sun. 3 Pm, Through Jan. 1
$40 to $125 (Seniors 65+ Get 10 Percent Off Weekdays; Students With Valid Student Id Pay $15 for Rush Tickets 15 Minutes Before Weekday Performances)
For Info: 305.444.9293 or is a nonprofit source of visual and performing arts news.