On December 4, 1956, Carl Perkins, who had already successfully released his hit “Blue Suede Shoes,” arrived at Sun Record Studios in Memphis, Tennessee, to cut some new material with his brothers Clayton and Jay and drummer W.S. Holland. In the hopes of enriching the sparse rockabilly instrumentation, Sun Records owner Sam Phillips brought in a young Jerry Lee Lewis, unknown outside of Memphis at that point, to accompany Perkins on piano.
Later that afternoon, a former Sun artist dropped in to pay a casual visit. 21-year-old Elvis Presley, accompanied by his girlfriend, listened to the playback of Perkins’ session with Phillips in the control room. At some point during the day, Sun artist and new country music star Johnny Cash popped in to the studio as well. Elvis sat down at the piano and the group started singing originals, familiar gospel songs, and a few Bill Monroe songs. Sound engineer Jack Clement made the decision to hit the record button while the four were in the studio and thus the “Million Dollar Quartet” was born. Phillips called in the press to take photos that would appear in newspapers the next day. However, the recordings from that day wouldn’t be released to the public until about 25 years later.
The session was archived in Sun’s catalogue and not discovered until around 1969, when Shelby Singleton bought Sun Records. A portion of the session was licensed to the British recording label Charly and released in Europe in 1981. The album was titled “The Million Dollar Quartet” and consisted of gospel and spiritual music. Several years later, additional material was discovered and released, and in 2006 a 50th anniversary issue of the session was released on RCA, containing approximately twelve minutes of previously unavailable material.
The complete catalogue from the “Million Dollar Quartet” session contains 46 musical tracks, interspersed with chatter between the participants. While they were never meant for commercial release, the recordings reflect the sound of a group of friends gathered together to play old favorites and share the pleasure of making music together. To veteran music historian and writer Colin Escott and film writer-producer Floyd Mutrux, the real-life event was a perfect opportunity to create a fictional stage version of what transpired that evening. In writing the book for Million Dollar Quartet, Escott took a few creative liberties by compressing events that had occurred over 18 months into one period. “The show catches these four guys at a point when their career trajectories are taking them in different directions,” says Escott. “It seemed like the ‘Million Dollar Quartet’ session was a cultural flashpoint that we could use to say something meaningful about where those guys had been and where they were going and about rock ’n’ roll in its infancy.”
Million Dollar Quartet premiered at Florida's Seaside Music Theatre in 2006. It was then staged at the Village Theatre in Issaquah, Washington, in September through October 2007, and Everett, Washington, in January 2008, where it broke box office records. Million Dollar Quartet then opened in 2008 at the Apollo Theatre in Chicago, where it is still running today and where it recently celebrated its 2500th performance on September 20, 2014. Million Dollar Quartet premiered on Broadway at Nederlander Theatre on April 11, 2010, and ran for almost 500 performances until June 12, 2011. Since 2011, the show has also enjoyed a year-long run in London’s West End, a brief off-Broadway run, and a U.S. National Tour. The musical includes timeless hits and favorites such as "Blue Suede Shoes," "Great Balls of Fire," "I Walk the Line," "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On," "Fever," "Folsom Prison Blues," and "Hound Dog.” Broadway’s Million Dollar Quartet was nominated for three 2010 Tony Awards, including Best Musical, Best Book of a Musical, and Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical for Levi Kreis, who won the Tony for his portrayal of Jerry Lee Lewis.
Hunter Foster, who starred as Sam Phillips in the Broadway production of Million Dollar Quartet, returns to the Ogunquit Playhouse to direct the show’s regional theatre premiere following its Broadway run. The actors portraying the famous foursome not only look the part, but are also extremely talented musicians, playing all the instruments live on stage. “The show just wants to be real about what these guys were and where they came from,” says Escott, “Because these are real guys who came from nowhere and started with nothing, but went on to change the course of pop music forever.” This thrilling musical brings you inside the recording studio with the major talents who came together as a red-hot rock ‘n’ roll band for one unforgettable night.
MILLION DOLLAR QUARTET
Book by COLIN ESCOTT and FLOYD MUTRUX
Original Concept and Direction by FLOYD MUTRUX
Inspired by ELVIS PRESLEY, JOHNNY CASH, JERRY LEE LEWIS and CARL PERKINS
Developed and produced at Village Theatre, Issaquah, Washington
Robb Hunt, Producer - Steve Tomkins, Artistic Director
Originally presented by Seaside Music Theater
Tippan Davidson, Producer - Lester Malizia, Artistic Director