This Quartet is Worth Far More than a Million

On December 4, 1956, the first supergroup of rock and roll appeared at Sun Records.  On that day, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, Elvis Presley, and Carl Perkins all happened to be at Sun Records at the same time and had an impromptu jam session recorded by Sun’s owner, Sam Phillips.  Inspired by that day, Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux wrote a little show about what might have gone on in the studio.  They called it Million Dollar Quartet and it is playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

To be honest, I was expecting a jukebox musical when I sat down to review this show, but Escott and Mutrux actually wrote a nifty little story that segues nicely into the evening’s showstopping numbers.  It’s fun, actually delves a bit into the characters of Phillips and the Million Dollar Quartet, and is even a little sad and haunting at certain points.  This strong tale is strengthened by the legendary hits as performed by a powerhouse cast who hit all the right notes musically and acting-wise.

Paul Kerr has directed a real winner with this production.  He sets a snappy pace, wonderfully stages the show, and pulls some exceptionally strong performances out of his actors.  Kerr has a good grip on the true depth of this story and hits all of its emotional beats with maximum impact.

Kerr’s cast is stellar from top to bottom.  Each fully understands his or her character and each also happens to be a darn good singer and instrumentalist.

I’d like to give special notice to the unsung heroes of this show:  Sean Powell and Darren Johnston.  Powell does double duty as the show’s musical director and in the small role of Jay Perkins.  As musical director, Powell’s work is superb as he and the cast don’t miss a trick in any of the night’s numbers.  He also does well in the role of Jay, Carl Perkins’ older brother.  Powell brings a real presence to the role and brings a natural flamboyance to it, not to mention some dynamite strumming on and skillful acrobatics with his stand up bass.  Johnston fuels all of the numbers with a deadly accurate backbeat as the session drummer, Fluke.

While all of the actors are great, Billy Rude may be the one to keep your eye on with his frenzied performance as Jerry Lee Lewis.  Rude’s Lewis has a natural gift for rubbing people the wrong way and has a self-confidence bordering on arrogance as he struggles to achieve stardom as Sun Record’s newest artist.  Rude’s ability with the piano borders on the superhuman as I had difficulty following his fingers as they blitzed across the keys.  He didn’t just play the singer known as “The Killer”, he became him as he perfectly emulated his over the top piano playing right down to kicking away the piano bench and having that hairstyle that gets just as wild as his performances in “Great Balls of Fire” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’”.

Sean Riley brings a surprising amount of pathos to the role of Carl Perkins.  Perkins was the first breakout star of Sun Records, but has hit a bit of a slump and is feeling overlooked by Sam Phillips.  Riley brings a bit of bitter frustration to the role as he is a bit of a curmudgeon who is only really close with Johnny Cash.  Lewis irritates him and he harbors a lot of resentment and jealousy towards Elvis who not only supplanted him on the charts, but became better known for Perkins’ hit song “Blue Suede Shoes” more than Perkins himself.  Riley is also a master guitarist and singer who flies high in “Matchbox” and his sections in “Brown-Eyed Handsome Man”.

You may think Johnny Cash has been reborn when you see Christopher Essex’s take on the Man in Black.  He bears a remarkable physical similarity to the singer, effortlessly duplicates his unique style of guitar playing, and has a similar bass voice.  Essex ably plays Cash as a gentle man of faith wrestling with the problem of telling Phillips he’s leaving the label.  He also shines in classic Cash numbers such as “I Walk the Line” and “Down By the Riverside”.

I really liked Courtney Crouse’s take on Elvis Presley.  He managed to show Elvis’ congeniality which people often forget about.  By displaying this side of Elvis’ personality, he shows us that the King was actually too nice for the cutthroat world of show business as he is often pushed around by Colonel Parker and his new record label, RCA.  But Crouse also reminds us that Elvis was a versatile performer almost without peer as he rocks out with “Hound Dog” then just as easily goes Gospel with “Peace in the Valley”.

After Bradley Farmer, as Elvis’ girlfriend, Dyanne, belted out “Fever” with that sultry alto, I needed to go soak my head in a bucket of ice water to cool off.  Ms Farmer gets a lot of mileage out of this small role who ends up serving as the confidante of nearly every character in the show.  Ms Farmer adds that extra something to the show whether it be singing or dancing to the numerous numbers or boosting the beat with her tambourine.

Last and certainly not least is Eddie Urish’s beautiful turn as Sam Phillips.  As the narrator of this tale, Urish presents Phillips as the grizzled record producer who built tiny Sun Records into a starmaking factory by recognizing rock and roll for the revolution it was and seeing the talent in future stars that other labels wouldn’t glance twice at.  I loved the loyalty that Urish gives to Phillips because it made his pain at watching the Quartet dissolve around him all the more believable and moving.

Todd Davison’s set is phenomenal as it has the perfect flavor of the former auto parts store now turned into a hitmaking machine.  Reymundo Montoya’s properties complete the picture of Davison’s set.  Shon Causer’s lighting adds a je ne sais quoi to the story as it changes from the brightness of the jam session to the dark blue of Phillips’ narration.

Believe me when I say you’re going to get more than a million bucks worth of entertainment out of this show.  The story is strong.  The performances are terrific.  The music is legendary.  Buckle up and enjoy the ride of this show.

Million Dollar Quartet plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 9.  Showtimes are at 7:30pm on June 28 and July 7-8; 2pm on June 25, 27, 30 and July 5 and 9.  Tickets cost $29 for the Main Floor and $22 for the balcony.  For tickets contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit the website at www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

Advertisements

Two Plays & a Place to Stay: Macon, MO & Phillips Place Bed and Breakfast

025

Summer has arrived which means it was time to answer the call of the road once more.

This time my journeys took me to the small town of Macon, MO where I would be reviewing a pair of shows for the Maples Repertory Theatre and staying at Phillips Place Bed & Breakfast.  And, no, to those of you who may be remembering my misadventures in Arlington, TX, I had no difficulty finding the theatre.  Everything I needed was within walking distance.

I enjoyed a rather pleasant drive through Missouri.  Traffic was light and the foliage was lush.  I pulled off the road in the little burg of Cameron for a bite of lunch at Wendy’s.  I ate a Spicy Chicken sandwich while Ellery Queen puzzled over the murder of Abigail Doorn in The Dutch Shoe Mystery, my latest novel.  After my lunch I noticed a machine that dispensed lottery tickets at the rest stop and bought tickets for Powerball and Mega Millions.  Then I looked for my change and found that the machine did not dispense change.  I then proceeded to buy 2 Monopoly scratch-offs and a Win It All scratch-off.  I won enough money off one of the Monopoly games to offset my forced expenditures.

About 4pm, I arrived in Macon and easily found my way to Phillips Place, owned and operated by Carol Phillips.  I met Carol’s assistant, Michael, and his feisty dog who led me to me to the Turner Suite, my temporary home.

Phillips Place is a rather large Classical Revival home that only has 2 rooms for rent (Turner and Rubey Suites), but they are large and comfortable.  In fact, I consider the Turner Suite to be the most comfortable room I have enjoyed as my three room suite contained a bedroom with a very soft bed, a spacious bathroom, and a rather quaint sitting room.

After I took a quick turn about the place, I met Carol Phillips who brought me a glass of iced tea with a slice of lemon.  Like myself, she was a big theatre buff and would also be attending the production of Of Mice and Men that I was reviewing.  The next day she and a friend, Chuck Koopmann (also a theatre buff and treasurer of Maples Repertory Theatre) were going to head to the Amana Colonies to watch a performance of Million Dollar Quartet featuring some past Maples Rep performers.

After the tea and talk, I took a constitutional around the neighborhood and downtown area to find the theatre and Immaculate Conception Church where I would be attending worship services the next night.  When I returned to the inn, I met Chuck who invited me to share dinner with himself and Carol.

I enjoyed a fine dinner of BBQ ribs, potatoes, salad, and some green beans.  It was a lovely meal with the conversation equally so as we talked theatre, the history of Maples Rep, and my various adventures in travel and theatre.

Upon dinner’s completion, I spruced myself up for the night’s entertainment.  Maples Repertory Theatre is a well hidden jewel in Missouri.  It attracts theatrical talent from all over the country and they put on one terrific production.  You can read my review of the show here.

027

On opening night, Maples Rep hosts an event called Afterglow where they serve drinks, hors d’oeuvres, and have a little cabaret production.  I watched a little of the cabaret and had a conversation with Brandon McShaffrey who directed the play.  Then I returned to the inn to write the review and sleep soundly through the night.

The next morning, I had breakfast with Carol and Chuck where I enjoyed biscuits basted with butter and sprinkled with brown sugar with sausage gravy, bacon, cheesy eggs, fried potatoes, milk, and orange juice and another great conversation.  Afterwards I returned to my room to do a little work and grab a quick catnap as my sleep the previous night had been sound, but not long due to my being up late to write.

At noon, I settled my bill with Carol due to her leaving for the Amana colonies and I took another walk around the area.  I stopped at a Rexall’s Drugstore which actually had an old-fashioned soda fountain.  I ordered a vanilla ice cream soda which was delicious and then returned to the inn to get out of the heat.  I spent the afternoon writing up this article and watching Lt. Columbo capturing killers.

In the late afternoon, I got dolled up for church and the show.  I attended evening services at Immaculate Conception Church where the service was said by Father Kevin Gormley, a lovable Irishman, now retired, who subs for priests all over the state.  As he says, now he is truly a “Roaming” Catholic.

006

Immaculate Conception Church

After worship had ended, I walked a few blocks up the road to the Apple Basket Café for dinner.  It’s a quaint little diner and I was very tempted to indulge in the Saturday night special of a 12 oz ribeye steak.  But, with the show starting in less than an hour, I opted for something that could be prepared and eaten a little more quickly.  I had a turkey club sandwich on sourdough with a side of fries and a cup of chili.  It filled the cavity nicely.

Feeling satiated, I returned to Maples Rep for another fantastic production.  You can read my review for Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash here.

During intermission, I met Todd Davison, the artistic director for Maples Rep.  I was quite shocked to learn that I was the first critic in the theatre’s 14 year history.  That morning, Chuck had asked for permission to send my first review to the town’s local newspaper, so I hope my words drum up some business.  This theatre is such a fine little jewel that I may send them an audition for next season.

At the show’s end I returned to Phillips Place where I wrote up the review and conked out for the night.

Breakfast was a more subdued, quiet affair this morning.  Carol had prepared a frittata with cheese, eggs, spinach, and yellow peppers along with milk, orange juice, a lemon puff, and a croissant.  Michael had heated up my meal and I ate a quicker meal than normal for me.

009

And that wraps up this article.  Macon is truly a nice, friendly little town.  It’s the type of town where everybody knows everybody.  You’ll enter a stranger and leave as a friend.  And I would make it a strong recommendation to visit this little town.  You won’t find a better inn than Phillips Place in terms of comfort and hospitality and you’ll do yourself a favor by taking in a night at Maples Repertory.  I guarantee it.

Ring of Fire is Smokin’ Good

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash.”

That simple, almost shy, introduction launches a night of foot stomping fun in Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash by Richard Maltby, Jr. and William Meade and is currently playing at Maples Repertory Theatre.

This is one of the more challenging reviews I’ve taken up due to the unique nature of the show.  If you’re expecting a story, forget it.  If you’re counting on great characterization, it isn’t happening.  If you’re looking for a lot of fun, there’s plenty of that and then some.  This show is a jukebox musical.  There really isn’t much acting.  There are snippets of information about the life of Johnny Cash sandwiched between numerous musical numbers of the Man in Black as a loose story of sorts.  But this show is a great concert, guaranteed to leave you feeling good when the night is done.

The difficulty in mounting a show of this type is that (aside from the need for great performing chops) it really depends on the staging.  To that end, Marc Liby has done sensational work with slick staging that animates all of the musical numbers and showcases the talents of the show’s five performers.

While the entire ensemble was of top quality, I thought the work of Elliot Lane was particularly impressive.  He did the most acting and was the Johnny Cashiest of the bunch with a dead on vocal mimicry of the singer.  Lane really shone in numbers such as a gutbusting rendition of A Boy Named Sue and Flesh and Blood.  Not only was Lane an ace performer, he also proved himself an incredible instrumentalist as he floated between playing guitar, electric mandolin, and just sizzled on the violin.

Andrea Love does double duty as performer and musical director and earns top marks for both.  Her confident musical direction shows in the cast’s effortless performances and her pure soprano melted my heart with tunes such as I Still Miss Someone and If I Were a Carpenter.

Wyatt McCall was the most physically suitable Johnny Cash with his rich bass voice and powerful build.  McCall was also a very skilled bass player and had a wry sense of humor best utilized in Five Feet High and Rising.  But he could turn on the drama just as easily as he proves in Going to Memphis.

Sean Powell was another top performer of the night.  A talented multi-instrumentalist, Powell easily moved from the standup bass to the guitar and, man alive, does he have a fabulous tenor voice.  I thought Powell had the song of the night with a haunting rendition of Sunday Mornin’ Comin’ Down.

Connor Sullivan rounds out the troupe.  I see the makings of a great comedic actor in Sullivan with his awesome facial expressions and his sense of timing best demonstrated in Delia’s Gone.  He does need to work on his projection a bit as I had trouble hearing him at various points.

Johnny Cash is a true icon of music.  While you may not have any great revelations into the life and character of the Man in Black, you certainly will have a high old time enjoying his legendary music.

Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash plays at Maples Repertory Theatre through July 24.  Performances are at 2pm on June 26 and July 1, 6, 10, 19, 20, and 24 and at 7:30pm on June 29 and July 22-23.  Tickets cost $27 for the main floor and $24 for the balcony.  For tickets contact the box office at 660-385-2924 or visit the website at www.maplesrep.com.  Maples Repertory Theatre is located at 102 N Rubey St in Macon, MO.

A Season of Heroes

A SEASON OF HEROES AT THE MAPLES REP

Heroes come in many forms. 

            Some are musicians who tell stories with their songs that save people going through hard times.  Some are little old ladies working in the church basement, providing delicious food and uplifting the spirits of their community.  Some criminals can even be heroes when given the right circumstances.  These are just a few examples of the heroes you’ll see during the Maples Rep 2016 season.

 

            Of Mice and Men is a serious play, but that doesn’t mean it’s not entertaining.  Audiences certainly enjoyed Love Story, The Way We Were, Ordinary People, Million Dollar Baby and The Revenant?  So, if you like –admittedly non-traditional– love stories with heroes and villains, you need to see the Maples Rep production of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.”  Todd Davison-Artistic Director, Maples Rep.

 

Of Mice and Men opens Friday, June 24th on the main stage at Maples Rep in Macon, MO.  This American classic is a snapshot of Depression-era migrant workers and a tale about a tragic friendship. Two drifters, the opportunistic George and his friend Lenny, the gentle giant, travel the roads of northern California with delusions of living off the “fat of the land.” John Steinbeck wrote the novel and adapted it for the stage in 1937. It was a slice-of-life drama in its time and continues to resonate with students, readers and playgoers as a universal meditation on power, hope and consequences.

 The play shows us real people, good and bad, and this mixture lets the audience know that the world portrayed in Of Mice and Men is real. Steinbeck does not fall into the trap of describing all those with power as evil. He has created characters with serious weaknesses and with great strengths but his real interest is in people who are oppressed and weak, yearning and failing to take control of their lives.

 “The Royal Theatre is a great, intimate space to see such a moving story” says Maples Rep Artistic Director Todd Davison, “even if people are very familiar with this story, they will experience it in a new way.  With actors from New York, Chicago, Orlando, Missouri and Alberta the cast of this production, under the direction of Maples Rep veteran, Brandon McShaffrey, has wide experience to bring to their portrayals.”

 Of Mice and Men runs through July 17 in rotating repertory with Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash, a musical about love and faith; struggle and success; rowdiness and redemption; and home and family. On July 15th one of heroes of the Bible–Joseph–takes the stage in the hit show Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. The Biblical saga of Joseph and his coat of many colors comes to vibrant life in a delightful musical parable for the whole family.

In between and after the Maples Rep main stage productions are: Afterglows, Sunday Dinners, Cabarets, Kid’s Shows and Kid’s Theatre Camps.  For more information and to order tickets call the Maples Rep Box Office at 660-385-2924, order online at http://www.maplesrep.com/, or go by the theatre located on the corner of Rubey and Vine in Macon, Missouri.

The Man in Black Kicks Off Maples Repertory Season

download

ONE WEEK! Can you believe it?! Maples Rep 2016 Season begins on June 15th with the opening of Ring of Fire:  The Music of Johnny Cash which features the music made famous by The Man in Black. Songs like “I Walk the Line, “ “A Boy Named Sue,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and the title tune “Ring of Fire” take audiences on an inspired musical journey that is a foot-stompin’, crowd-pleasin’ salute to an American legend. From the iconic songbook of Johnny Cash comes this musical about love and faith, struggle and success, rowdiness and redemption, and home and family. Call now or visit our website to reserve your tickets!

Location:  Maples Repertory Theatre (102 N Rubey St, Macon, MO  63552)

Ticket Prices:  $27 (Main Floor)  $22 (Balcony)

Box Office:  660-385-2924 or http://www.maplesrep.com

A Journey Beyond Imagination, Day 4: Lines, Lines, Everywhere’s a Line

At long last we were going to experience the centerpiece of the Tokyo Maximum Tour.  Today we were heading to the Tokyo Game show, the second biggest video game show on the planet and the biggest that is open to the general public.

Back in the day I was a pretty avid gamer.  Even today, I break out my old systems once in a while to enjoy my collection.  So the idea of getting to see new technology and test games that hadn’t hit the market yet held a certain appeal for me.

Our group had special passes that allowed us entry to the show an hour before it started.  This was the best part of the day as there was time to slowly explore all of the vendors and get some sneak previews of new games.  But once the show was open to the rest of the public. . .Whoa Nellie!!!

Now I knew what a sardine must feel like.  Over a quarter of a million people were at the event and I felt squashed.  Lines to sample new video games quickly stretched to multi-hour waits.  Fortunately, I had my trusty Kindle to pass the time in line, but standing in line for 2 hours to play a new game for 15 minutes didn’t seem worth the wait.  I had hoped to play Resident Evil 6, but that ended up being one of the most popular games at the venue.  The wait got so long that the line was actually shut down on a couple of occasions.

Not that there weren’t interesting things to watch while I waited and wandered.  Legends in the video game field appeared for discussion panels and to introduce new games.  The legendary Japanese pro wrestler, Jushin “Thunder” Liger, made an appearance to promote a new wrestling video game and even competed in a match at the show. 

After a while, I managed to find a quiet corner where I could read and people watch until it was time for our group to head back to Ikebukuro.  If I had to do it over again, I probably would have cut this day short and gone to Tokyo Disneyland which we passed on the way to show.  In fact, I just may hit that place up when I return to Japan.

We were on our own for dinner that night, so Mat, Dave, and I did a little exploring on the streets of Ikebukuro.  A parade broke out in front of us a few blocks from the hotel and we found a little festival going on.  After wandering about the festival a bit, we continued up the street where we found a McDonald’s.

I admit I did want to eat at a McDonald’s in Japan just to say that I did it.  I expected to be able to find one, but what I didn’t expect is that I would find one every 6 blocks.  They were everywhere!  Aside from the fare one would expect, the menu also contains items for the Japanese palate.  Mat and Dave ordered Tsukimshi (Moon Viewing) burgers which were hamburgers topped with a sunny side up egg.  Egg burgers are quite popular in Japan.  I opted for a lettuce and pepper sauce burger which I found quite tasty.  I definitely wouldn’t mind this sandwich finding its way to America.

After dinner, the three of us met up with Mike and Yukie and we left to enjoy one of Japan’s favorite pastimes. . .karaoke.  Mat opened us up with a rendition of the opening theme to Golgo 13 (an anime series) which he sung in Japanese.  I followed up with a powerful rendition of Johnny Cash’s Ring of Fire.  From there we were all took turns singing our hearts out for the next two hours and we closed the evening singing five part disharmony.  What a festive night.

It was back to our rooms to rest up for the next day.  This would be our first free day that we could use to examine Tokyo any way that we desired.