Million Dollar Quartet is a rocking jukebox musical which tells the story of a historic day in 1956 which saw Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins all join together at Sun Studios for an afternoon of recording. Affectionately referred to as the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’, the show explores the events of that day as they unfolded through the music of the four artists.
The men portraying the music legends are extremely talented, juggling the demanding vocal requirements of their respective roles with playing various instruments and embodying these historic figures. BWW sat down to speak with three of them (Martin Kaye, Lee Ferris and Derek Keeling) about what the experience has been like so far, the daunting task of portraying such well known singers, and why everyone will find something to love about the show:
Were you a fan of this music growing up? And of the person you play in particular?
MK: To be honest, I wasn't really exposed to this type of music as a kid. My parents were born in the 50's, so I grew up listening to a lot of the late 60s, 70s and 80s music. I'd heard of Jerry Lee, and I played Great Balls of Fire as a kid but only because it was a boogie woogie that I picked up from my Dad. I'd never really heard the actual recording until much more recently!
LF: I always loved early rock and roll. My parents played a lot of Elvis growing up and when I started playing guitar I became obsessed with the blues. I was especially into the earlier African American artists that were signed to SUN Records before the four icons in our show. BB King was my favorite. I learned about Carl Perkins through other guitar players I met and formed bands with and always knew that he was huge influence in early American rock and roll.
DK: I have been listening to 50's music for as long as I can remember. My dad really got me involved with it at a young age. We would go on road trips together because he was a professional drag racer and all he would listen to was 50's and 60's music. It really created a love for the music. I have been familiar with Johnny Cash music for a long time, but this is the first time I have sang any of it. Doing the music over the past year has really created a love for Johnny Cash's music and his unique style.
What has the process been like to embody someone so well known to music lovers all over the world? How do you make the role your own while still incorporating the trademark things about the person you’re portraying?
MK: Well there's obviously a difference between playing a fictional character and a real human being, so there's a little bit of pressure there to make sure you're true to the real guy, so it's been an education, I'll say that! YouTube has been a godsend, and reading Jerry Lee's biography was more like a novel about a made up character, his life has been so interesting and eventful. But also, we're not impersonators. We're just trying to celebrate this incredibly revolutionary time when rock and roll became popular, so it's just us musicians, being ourselves but also making sure we capture the essence of the guys we're honoring.
LF: I have a lot more freedom playing Carl because most people cannot place his movements or his voice in their mind as easily as the other three. I get to be myself more than the others I feel, because people have expectations of the men they are portraying before they walk into the theater. I bring a lot of my own personality to the role but I also hit on some key characteristics of Carl in order to pay respect to him and those who do love him. I spent many hours watching videos of him and of the others so I could get the essence of the era and its music.
DK: This is the first time I have ever played an actual person from history as opposed to a fictional character. With that came a unique challenge and some advantages. The challenge is that people have a predetermined idea of what you should look and sound like. The advantage is that you have years and years of video footage and audio recordings to draw from. For me it was all about taking in as much of that information as I could but eventually allowing Johnny Cash to flow through my own body. I wanted to capture is essence as opposed to doing an impersonation.