Playhouse brings a welcome contrast to the vast majority of holiday-themed productions
Are you tired of “traditional” theatre fare over the holidays? Have you had it with Scrooge, White Christmas, Twelfth Night, and the Christmas extravaganza at Radio City Music Hall? Then get yourself to the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA, for a rockin’ good time with Million Dollar Quartet Christmas, a new addition to holiday entertainment!
This holiday sequel to the successful Million Dollar Quartet takes place on Christmas Eve in 1956. Reunited at the Sun Records studios in Memphis, TN, were Carl Perkins (Sam Sherwood), Jerry Lee Lewis (Jason Cohen), Johnny Cash (Tyler Michael Breeding), and Elvis Presley (Joe Boover), joined by Elvis’ girlfriend Dyanne (Margaret Dudasik), bass player Jay Perkins (James David Larson), Carl’s brother, and drummer Fluke Holland (Tucker Cruz Marshall). Their old producer Sam Phillips (understudy Brian Michael Henry) was their host and suggested they kick around and record some of their favorite holiday tunes, possibly for a Christmas album.
The musical numbers range from such traditional holiday songs as “O Christmas Tree,” “Silent Night,” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” to rocking versions of “Santa Claus Is Back in Town,” “Blue Christmas,” and “Santa Claus Is Coming to Town.” Mixed in are other rock classics, like “Don’t Be Cruel,” “Chantilly Lace,” and “Run, Rudolph, Run.” Dudasik shines with her sultry take on “Santa, Baby” and her just-for-fun “Mele Kalikimaka” played on the ukulele. Breeding scores with his rendition of Cash’s classic “Ring of Fire”; Cohen goes wild with his raucous versions of every tune he plays; Sherwood takes the lead on the rockabilly tune “Cotton Top”; and Boover shimmies and shakes across the stage performing Elvis’ signature tunes. The Quartet shines in a rousing medley of “Go Tell It on the Mountain” and “I Shall Not Be Moved,” among other ensemble numbers.
Colin Esott’s book for the show consists of three main elements. First is Phillips’ rueful reminders on how he discovers talent, gets that talent noticed by recording their music then gets to watch as they sign with bigger record labels. Second is Elvis: how his career and life is faring under the controlling eye of Colonel Tom Parker, his recent induction notice into the Army, and his relationship with Dyanne. Third is a series of monologues delivered to the audience by the Quartet members, Dyanne and Phillips, about what’s going on at this point in their lives and their plans for the future.
The cast, under director Hunter Foster, are lively with an infectious energy that rolls over the audience. The set by Josh Smith recreates the Sun Records studios, giving the actors enough room to perform their numbers without seeming to be too big for the show, and is expertly lit by lighting designer Ryan O’Gara. Lauren Roark’s costumes are mid-50’s festive, especially in the finale. Ashton Corey’s sound design was mostly fine, although early in the show, there were some minor glitches with the miking.
Million Dollar Quartet Christmas stands in welcome contrast to the vast majority of holiday-themed productions seen around this time of year. It marries familiar Christmas songs with the driving energies of rockabilly and boogie-woogie music to create a show designed to get your feet tapping and send you out of the theater on an energetic high.
It’s worth the trip to New Hope’s Bucks County Playhouse to see Million Dollar Quartet Christmas, and I encourage you to take it this season.
Million Dollar Quartet Christmas is presented by the Bucks County Playhouse in New Hope, PA, through January 1st, 2023. For more information or to purchase tickets, visit bcptheater.org or call 215-862-2121. Masks are recommended while in the building but are not required.