Displayed on the back wall inside Bucks County Playhouse are posters and photos of productions and stars who appeared there over the years, including Grace Kelly, who made her acting debut at Bucks Playhouse in 1949 in playwright and uncle George Kelly’s “The Torchbearers,” and Robert Redford, in the 1963 world premiere at Bucks Playhouse of Neil Simon’s “Barefoot In The Park,” then called “Nobody Loves Me,” the first play ever directed by Mike Nichols.
And there’s “The Solid Gold Cadillac,” starring Billie Burke, produced in 1956 at Bucks County Playhouse, New Hope.
Later that year, on Dec. 6, 1956, some 1,050 miles away in Memphis, Tenn., Elvis Presley pulled up in, if not a solid-gold Cadillac, then possibly one of his Cadillacs, at Sun Record Studios to drop in on an impromptu jam session with Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.
Producer Sam Phillips kept the recording tape rolling. The Memphis Press-Scimitar headlined it the “Million Dollar Quartet.” Subsequent releases in 1981 and 1990 burnished this “Solid Gold Recording Session.”
You can listen to that session, but seeing is believing. It’s as if the heavens parted and Elvis, Jerry Lee, Carl and Johnny angels alighted on the stage of Bucks County Playhouse for “Million Dollar Quartet,” extended through Sept. 29 at the legendary New Hope venue.
“Million Dollar Quartet” is the jukebox musical to top all jukebox musicals, with 22 toe-tapping, finger-snapping, sing-alonging rock ‘n’ roll, country, pop, and gospel hits made famous by the “Quartet” stars, including “Blue Suede Shoes” (Perkins), “Folsom Prison Blues” (Cash), “Great Balls Of Fire” (Lewis) and “Hound Dog” (Presley).
Sun Records is lovingly replicated in the Scenic Design by John Smith and Lighting Design by Kirk Bookman, with a neon sign, gold records on the wall, recording engineer’s sound booth and recording studio.
Director Hunter Foster not only keeps the Playhouse “joint” rocking, but working from the book by the knowledgeable, award-winning team of Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux, he gives pause for each quartet superstar to back-story families and boyhoods, rendering the iconic characters and the show more poignant than most of your jukebox quarters-in-the-slot musicals. It’s good rockin’ tonight. It’s also the heart of rock ‘n’ roll.
The actors-musicians are terrific. James Ludwig (Sam Phillips) is ebullient, engaging the audience with aplomb, as he ad-libs time-travel asides.
Ryah Nixon (Dyanne, as Elvis’s girlfriend) brings some great vocal chops to dynamic versions of “Fever” and “I Hear Ya Knockin.’”
Backup musicians Zach Cossman (Fluke Holland) and James David Larson (Jay Perkins) are superb musician-showmen. Sound Design is by Bart Fasbender. Director of Production is Matthew Given.
The Costume Design by Lauren T. Roark brings the jazzy, spazzy, razzamatazzy style to the 1950s’ jackets, shirts, pants and shoes, plus the dresses of Elvis’s girlfriend.
John Michael Presney (Carl Perkins) has the guitar chops to lead the band and, as the show’s Music Director, propels the ensemble with energetic riffing (“Matchbox”).
Brandyn Day (Jerry Lee Lewis) is an incredible piano player and honky-tonks it atop, around, and on the upright, tickling the ivories with his entire body (“Whole Lotta Shakin’”).
Ari McKay Wilford (Elvis Presley) has the moves that got “The King” ready for his waist-up closeup on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” Here, you see all the swagger and that lip-sneer look (“That’s Alright”).
Sky Seals (Johnny Cash) not only has the bass-baritone, guitar-strumming and speaking voice down for “The Man In Black,” he just about steals the show as a kind of reincarnation of the country icon (“I Walk The Line”).
The show switches it up with beautiful a cappella four-part harmony “Down By The Riverside” (Presney, Day, Wilford, Seals) and five-part harmony (with Ryah Nixon) on “Peace In The Valley.”
“Million Dollar Quartet” concludes with a rousing rave-up that had the audience on its feet Aug. 11 opening night when the show was seen for this review.
If you’re a fan of 1950s rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and jukebox musicals, don’t miss “Million Dollar Quartet” at Bucks County Playhouse.
While you’re there, take the time to look at the “Million-Dollar History” inside on the walls.
Tickets: Bucks County Playhouse box office, 70 S. Main St., New Hope; bcptheater.org; 215-862-2121