Lately, I've been sort of struck by the phrase "not my cup of tea." I've often thought of the phrase as sort of lazy. When people use it, what they really seem to be saying is that they didn't like something, but they don't want to actually do the work to formulate and justify a coherent, supportable opinion.
Then I saw Million Dollar Quartet, which opened last night at the Nederlander Theatre. And I can honestly say that it just wasn't my cup of tea. However, I shall endeavor to provide defensible support for my admittedly personal reaction.
As you may know, Million Dollar Quartet revolves around a mythical night in 1956 when Elvis Presley (played here by Eddie Clendening), Johnny Cash (Lance Guest), Jerry Lee Lewis (Levi Kreis), and Carl Perkins (Rob Lyons) got together for a jam session at Sun Records, the business home of music impresario Sam Phillips (Hunter Foster).
The show met with quite the bell curve of critical response, ranging from a few raves to a few pans to a swell of mixed reactions in between. It's likely that your own reaction to the show will depend on your personal connection to these men and their music. The show is certainly professionally staged and performed, and the crowd was frickin' eating it up. But I think I would have been a lot more engaged if I were in any way a fan of the members of the titular quartet, which I decidedly am not.
Fortunately, the show comprises more than just the jam session itself, otherwise I would have found it unbearably tedious. There's certainly a goodly amount of music, and the four central performers (who also play their own instruments, and quite well, I might add), do a bang-up job of capturing the essence of their respective characters, at least insofar as I'm familiar with these men and their work. But on the whole the show left me with the impression that it was a very professional Vegas tribute show.
Librettists Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux try to imbue the evening with a decent amount of dramatic tension: Will Sam Phillips sell Sun records to RCA? Will Johnny Cash sign a three-year extension on his contract with Sun? Will Phillips make the leap to RCA to work again with Elvis Presley, whose contract he sold to RCA in order to remain in business? Will upstart Jerry Lee Lewis ever get a chance to record his own songs, or will he continue to play backup for other artists? Will Carl Perkins vent his anger at Elvis for "stealing" Perkins' signature hit, "Blue Suede Shoes"?
Here's the thing, though: I don't care. I don't care. I don't care. I don't care. And I don't care.
Million Dollar Quartet doesn't really add anything new to the musical-theater form. In fact, it seems to borrow numerous elements from other shows. The show's final moment seems cadged from the act 1 finale of Sunday in the Park With George. The libretto makes liberal use of lazy narration, much like Jersey Boys. And the show even ends with a mini-concert, a la recent productions of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and Grease.
That said, the show is certainly well presented. Director Eric Schaeffer keeps everything moving apace. There's nothing stilted, awkward, or even remotely amateurish about the show. The show's flashback structure is effective, if repetitious. There is some rather clunky exposition, particularly regarding Jerry Lee Lewis' familial connection to Jimmy Swaggart as well as Sam Phillips' then-budding working relationship with Roy Orbison. On the whole, if you're not a fan of these particular iconic performers, there's really no larger reason to see the show. At least not from where I sat.GRADE: C+ (For fans only. Or for those who can't get tickets to Jersey Boys.)