Dec. 4, 1956, was a magical day in rock and roll history.
Carl Perkins, renowned for the iconic “Blue Suede Shoes” among other staples, had a recording session scheduled at Sun Records in Memphis with then-rock rookie Jerry Lee Lewis. Out of nowhere, Elvis Presley stops by with his girlfriend. And, then walks in Johnny Cash.
Naturally, from there, they all got to talking, singing and recording some of the greatest songs of all time.
Yes, this all actually happened.
A surreal, real-life encounter that seems fit for the movies is now coming to the stage at Riverside Center for the Performing Arts. “Million Dollar Quartet,” the nostalgic musical based on that day in history, will run through March 5.
“This is a very nostalgic show that is certainly touching at times,” said Patrick A’Hearn, producing artistic director at Riverside. “What’s nice about ‘Million Dollar Quartet,’ as compared to other jukebox musicals, is that this centers around four people and not just one. And our four leads are truly spectacular.”
Leading the cast of eight are four gents, all of whom have done “Million Dollar Quartet” before. Playing Perkins is singer/actor extraordinaire Todd Meredith, who is sure to be a familiar face for Riverside regulars.
Meredith played Buddy Holly in “Buddy—The Buddy Holly Musical” last winter and, separately, his band “The Rave-Ons” packed the house at Riverside recently for a one-night-only show. Meredith’s prior stint in “Million Dollar Quartet” was as Cash.
“I’ve watched as many videos as possible to get [Carl Perkins’] moves down,” said Meredith in preparation for his new role. “I’ve seen how he sings, moves and dances, and I’m ready to go.”
Joining Meredith are Stephen Edwards Horst as Cash, Kavan Hashemian as Presley, and Gavin Rohrer as Lewis.
“[Lewis] is an unapologetic ball of energy … he’s good and he knows it,” said Rohrer, a University of Virginia grad, now in his third production of “Million Dollar Quartet.” “The reason I keep playing him is that he’s so much fun—he’s a straight from the Bayou, trashy kind of guy and thinks he’s the smartest and most talented person in the room. I love him.”
If you’ve been waiting your entire life for the right Elvis Presley impersonator, this is your opportunity. Hashemian has been a bonafide Elvis Jr. since he was 3 years old and has built quite a fan base.
“My grandma was a huge Elvis fan and I was always surrounded by Elvis music and movies,” said Hashemian. “It started out as a little thing and it’s something that everyone thought I’d grow out of. But as I performed more and more, I thought, ‘This could really be something.’ ”
In 2007, Hashemian competed in the BBC smash singing competition “The World’s Greatest Elvis.” It was on that show that he was crowned the world’s No. 1 “Rock and Roll Elvis” and gained an international following.
“Anytime I run in to anyone from the U.K., they know me from that show,” he laughed. “A lot of people in the U.S. have never seen it, but that’s OK. It was one of my proudest moments.”
With four rock stars anchoring the show, seeing them come together to perform nearly 40 songs—from “Hound Dog” to “Great Balls of Fire” to “Folsom Prison Blues”—has been a truly magical experience for all involved.
“It’s a very intimate show, with only one set— the Sun recording studio,” said director Robert Gonyo. “You’re in the room with this group and the music just sounds phenomenal."
Compared to other versions of “Million Dollar Quartet” you may or may not have seen, this is not a straight-up concert. There is a story woven in with a bit more conversation than average.
“Our director has really heightened this in a way a lot of people haven’t done so before,” said Rohrer. “He’s given us actors some really good acting moments—something other than a jukebox musical where people just hear music.”
With so much action and ’50s heyday nostalgia, this show is promising to be good until the last note.
“You’re going to want to stay ’til the very end … it’s totally worth it,” said Rohrer. “Don’t leave until Elvis has left the building.”