The solidly entertaining "Million Dollar Quartet" is less about the ground-breaking rock 'n' roll stars of the title and more about the man who discovered them.
That is not to say you don't get Elvis Presley famously swiveling his hips or Johnny Cash dipping into his regal baritone. Carl Perkins twangs classic guitar licks and Jerry Lee Lewis nearly levitates with his audacious energy.
Yet the musical's narrative centers on Sam Phillips, the owner and producer of Sun Records, who is so often cited as making the first rock 'n' roll record, "Rocket 88," in a session featuring 19-year-old guitarist-composer Ike Turner.
Book writers Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, both experts on the early days of rock 'n' roll, have crafted a story based on the events of Dec. 4, 1956, showing Phillips trying to keep his little record enterprise going. Actor Christopher Ryan Grant's effusive Phillips is a classic American success story.
Phillips related to the blues, and seminal artists such as B.B. King and Howlin' Wolf made their first recordings at his little studio.
Phillips' modest business becomes the story's fulcrum as both Perkins (Lee Ferris) and Cash (Derek Keeling) are looking for more exposure than Sun Records can give. Perkins had a hit with "Blue Suede Shoes," but Phillips had to sell Presley's contract to RCA Records in 1955 to keep Sun afloat.
Even with Perkins and Cash grousing about their career status, the opportunity to hang out at the Sun studio with old friend Presley, now suddenly a star, was too rich to pass up. With young Jerry Lee Lewis (Martin Kaye) on hand, a real jam session took place. Tape was rolling when Presley (Cody Slaughter) and his lady friend, here called Dyanne (Kelly Lamont) dropped in on the Perkins recording session.
The four singers concentrated on the gospel standards they grew up on and truly loved, including "Jesus Walked That Lonesome Valley," "I Shall Not Be Moved" and "Just a Little Talk With Jesus."
While those tunes aren't in the musical, "Peace in the Valley" and "Down By the Riverside," which they also sang, are included.
For the purposes of making this a popular musical experience, many songs in the show weren't sung that day.
"Blue Suede Shoes," "Fever," "That's All Right," "Great Balls of Fire," "I Walk the Line" and "Folsom Prison Blues" were not sung that night in 1956, but are in the tight, 95-minute, one-act production.
Curiously, Presley's big hit "Don't Be Cruel," which the band actually worked on several times that night, is not included in the show. There is a knowing nod to the influence of Chuck Berry and a spirited performance of his "Brown Eyed Handsome Man."
With all the music created onstage by the engaging performers (including bassist Chuck Zayas and drummer Billy Shaffer) and their realistic interactions, the passion and power of the era takes over and makes this an absolutely winning production.