by Marsala Rypka
It’s all in the hips. Through an extraordinary twist of fate, four musical geniuses—Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley—found themselves at the Sun Records studio in Memphis on December 4, 1956, for the first and only time together. It resulted in one of the greatest impromptu rock ‘n’ roll jam sessions in history.
The event, which has been immortalized for stage, is the inspiration for the Tony® Award-winning musical Million Dollar Quartet, now playing at Harrah’s Las Vegas.
“Every fact in the show is historically correct,” says producer Gigi Pritzker, whose film projects include The Wedding Planner, Rabbit Hole and Drive. “You won’t hear an Elvis song from 1960 or a post-1956 Cash song until the encore of the show.” The score does include “Blue Suede Shoes,” “That’s All Right,” “I Walk the Line” and “Folsom Prison Blues.”
When it came to casting the actors/musicians, Pritzker says she wasn’t seeking look-a-likes. “It’s not about height, weight or age; it’s about whether they can evoke that iconic musicianship. The person who plays Carl Perkins has to be a great guitar player. The person who plays Jerry Lee Lewis has to be an amazing piano player. There are a couple of iconic moments where Cash has to sing some very low notes, and the actress who plays Elvis’ girlfriend Diana has to hit a high E when she sings harmony.”
Pritzker says the high-energy show is “a blend of rock ‘n’ roll, gospel, R&B and country,” adding, “The idea of being a fly on the wall during this moment in music history with these great musical icons is a natural fit for Las Vegas.”