Great Balls of Fire! A Broadway show that uses the acoustics of a beautiful intimate theater built in 1921 instead of trying to blast out the ears of the audience. The Nederlander has only 1200 seats and it was built so that you could hear the actors in the back row. Before the show I was talking to my penpal’s sister-in-law (another outing with my penpal and her family) and I was moaning about how loud Broadway theaters are nowadays and that actors don’t know how to project. So I was pleasantly surprised when Sam Phillips started talking and I realized I was listening to him and not to the arrays on either side. All the actors played their own instruments and if the rock and roll needed to be heard, we heard it. But it was never overwhelming – only electric guitars were amped. The two acoustic guitars were never mic’d. And the piano sound was only brought up when needed. Same for the bass. And there was a mic or two on the drum kit.
The story takes place in Memphis – the Sun Records studio to be exact – on December 4, 1956. A magical night when Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis, Johnny Cash, and Elvis Presley gathered and sang a few songs. The Million Dollar Quartet. I recently visited Sun Records and the studio was as true to life as you can get away with on a Broadway stage. The story we heard was a little bit fact (the recording exists so we know what they sang) and a little bit fiction (conversations created for the drama) and a whole lot of fun. The actors did a wonderful job recreating the looks and sounds of the originals without coming off like a tribute band – especially the understudies who performed – Christopher Ryan Grant as Johnny Cash and Billy Woodard as Elvis Presley. Carl Perkins was played by Erik Hayden and James Moye was Sam Phillips. And in a room full of out-sized personalities, the biggest one of all was Jerry Lee Lewis as played by Jared Mason. Providing a stomping rhythm section was Corey Kaiser as Jay Perkins on bass and Larry Lelli as the drummer Fluke. The group performed favorites like “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Matchbox,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “That’s All Right,” and “Great Balls of Fire” and also performed gospel tunes like “Down By the Riverside” and “Peace in the Valley.” Also singing “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking” was Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne (Victoria Matlock).
The show ends with a fantasy Vegas show with all four performers giving their all while wearing Nudie sequin jackets.
It was a great show and I’d recommend it only to have audiences hear what a Not over-amplified Broadway show sounds like but you should go for the performances and the fun.
By Carene Lydia Lopez