STORY WRITTEN BY BRIAN BINGAMAN
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Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash — how’s that for a super group?
On Dec. 4, 1956, the paths of the four legendary singers intersected at Sam Phillips’ Sun Studio in Memphis during a Carl Perkins recording session for the song “Matchbox.” The ensuing “Million Dollar Quartet” jam session was captured on tape for posterity, and a photo even appeared in the “Memphis Press-Scimitar” of Elvis seated at a piano, surrounded by Lewis, Perkins and Cash (Elvis’ girlfriend of the time was cropped out of the photo).
Later came “The Million Dollar Quartet” book about that night (and various reunions of surviving members of the quartet), and even a Broadway musical.
The tribute show “A Night to Remember,” which salutes the music of the Sun Records recording artists in a live concert, takes the stage for two performances Feb. 22 at the Sellersville Theater.
“We didn’t want to be ‘The Million Dollar Quartet’ (Broadway show). We weren’t looking for dialogue or a play or a musical,” said show producer Howard Pitch. However, he described “A Night to Remember” as having a generous amount of unscripted improv and historical perspective.
For instance, Pitch described Lewis’ role that night at the studio simply as a Sun artist that Phillips asked to be the piano man for Perkins’ session. “His anecdote on the session was he wanted the limelight,” he said, noting that the ambitious and cocky Lewis (who did not yet have a hit record) was not in the least bit awed by Presley, even though Elvis was the biggest name in show business, having graduated from Sun to RCA Records and had recently been seen by 55 million viewers of “The Ed Sullivan Show.”
“We had a very specific Elvis that we were looking for,” said Pitch of casting Las Vegas entertainer and ‘56 Elvis specialist Vic Trevino.
Created in 2012 by John Mueller, who usually plays the Carl Perkins role, “A Night to Remember” was originally conceived as a revue show for the Branson stage, but did not debut there as planned.
“The show opens with Carl Perkins. It sort of tells the evolution of rockabilly,” Pitch said. “Carl Perkins is playing guitar for Johnny Cash and there’s an opportunity for the two of them to interact. Johnny Cash typically will talk about how he got the ‘ching-ching-ka-ching’ (rhythm that shows up in several of his hits).”
At the time of the Million Dollar Quartet gathering, Cash’s star was rising thanks to the songs “Cry! Cry! Cry!”, “I Walk the Line” and “There You Go.” Unfortunately, “The Man in Black” did not audibly show up on the jam session recording.
Although their rock ‘n’ roll lifestyles didn’t exactly reflect it, being raised on gospel music was something all four singers had in common. “There’s lots of gospel anecdotes (in the show),” Pitch said.
“There’s a medley that happens towards the end of the show … where each performer supports one another in harmony,” Pitch said, describing a music geek’s fantasy.
Put all their songs together, and you have a whale of a playlist: “Blue Suede Shoes” (Originally recorded by Perkins, but also famously done by Elvis), “Great Balls of Fire,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” “Hound Dog” …
“I haven’t been at any show that hasn’t had a standing ovation,” Pitch said.
IF YOU GO
What: Presly, Perkins, Lewis & Cash: A Night to Remember.
When: 3 and 8 p.m. Feb. 22.
Where: Sellersville Theater 1894, 24 W. Temple Ave. at Main Street, Sellersville.
Tickets: $29.50 and $45.
Info.: Call (215) 257-5808 or visit www.st94.com.