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Queen’s Theatre musical Million Dollar Quartet immortalises Memphis meeting between four icons

PUBLISHED: 10:00 24 September 2017

Martin Kaye (Jerry Lee Lewis), Rhys Whitfield (Elvis Presley), Robbie Durham (Johnny Cash), Matt Wycliffe (Carl Perkins) in Million Dollar Quartet, with Peter Duncan as Sam Phillips. Picture: Darren Bell

Martin Kaye (Jerry Lee Lewis), Rhys Whitfield (Elvis Presley), Robbie Durham (Johnny Cash), Matt Wycliffe (Carl Perkins) in Million Dollar Quartet, with Peter Duncan as Sam Phillips. Picture: Darren Bell

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On a winter’s night in 1956, four future icons created music history by rocking out together in a famous Tennessee studio.

Million Dollar Quartet. Picture: Queen's Theatre Million Dollar Quartet. Picture: Queen's Theatre

Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins jammed at the Sun Records Studios in Memphis while at the very beginning of their careers, and the meeting has secured legendary status in the decades since they became rock and roll superstars.

Inspired by these events, the musical Million Dollar Quartet offers audiences the chance to be reacquainted with their idols, while enjoying renditions of the classics which ensured their rock immortality.

Rhys Whitfield plays Elvis in Queen’s Theatre’s new production of the show, which will run from Monday to Saturday (September 25-30).

“These four men were on the brink of success, on the cusp of becoming the musicians we now know,” he said.

Martin Kaye (Jerry Lee Lewis), Rhys Whitfield (Elvis Presley), Robbie Durham (Johnny Cash), Matt Wycliffe (Carl Perkins) in Million Dollar Quartet. Picture: Darren Bell Martin Kaye (Jerry Lee Lewis), Rhys Whitfield (Elvis Presley), Robbie Durham (Johnny Cash), Matt Wycliffe (Carl Perkins) in Million Dollar Quartet. Picture: Darren Bell

“They were in their early twenties and, sort of by chance, at the same studio run by a guy called Sam Phillips, who was pivotal in that whole rock and roll movement becoming what it did.

“It’s fascinating to see these icons of the last century up close and personal, in a setting most people probably didn’t know they could even see them in.”

The production – a hit in the West End and Broadway – uses the famous studio session as a setting to examine the musicians’ personalities, touching on their hopes, fears and the successes to come in the future.

Featuring more than 20 classics including Great Balls of Fire, Hound Dog and I Walk the Line, the show also stars former Blue Peter presenter Peter Duncan as record producer Sam Phillips. Martin Kaye (Jerry Lee Lewis), Robbie Durham (Johnny Cash), Matt Wycliffe (Carl Perkins) and Katie Ray (Dyanne) complete the main cast.

Peter Duncan, who is starring as record producer Sam Phillips in Million Dollar Quartet. Picture: Peter Duncan Peter Duncan, who is starring as record producer Sam Phillips in Million Dollar Quartet. Picture: Peter Duncan

And 23-year-old Rhys is eager to step into the King’s Blue Suede Shoes.

“Elvis is such an icon for so many people and it’s really interesting, when he went to the studio he was 21 and had made his first film Love Me Tender, he wasn’t the sort of ‘finished product’ that we know.

“I’ve tried to avoid looking at anything after 1956 when this event occurred, I’m reading a biography of Elvis right now and it’s fascinating, I think it’s the relatability.

“He was a musician from 16, there was about two or three years where most people who heard of him, saw him wouldn’t have found it remarkable. Sam Phillips, I can’t remember the exact quote, but when he first heard him sing he put down ‘ballad singer’. That’s mad to think it’s Elvis he’s talking about.”

The phenomenal success of Million Dollar Quartet – penned by Tony Awards nominees Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux – shows nostalgia for the 1950s and 60s is not abating just yet.

“Teenagers were rebelling, young people were running their lives rather than following a set of rules, I think we were also beginning to see social mobility [in the industry], these four guys were coming from really poor backgrounds, especially Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash.”

Describing his fellow cast members as “sensational”, Rhys, who has also appeared in Jesus Christ Superstar, promised that if audiences have a “10th of the fun” the actors have on stage, they’re in for a treat.

“There’s definitely enough Elvis classics in there to get your Elvis fix, and the song list also includes gospel songs they all knew from church, really beautiful songs.

“It’s absolutely fantastic, the whole creative team have been so welcoming, and I can’t wait to get started next week.”

Million Dollar Quartet, directed by Olivier Awards nominee Ian Talbot, runs from September 25-30 at Queen’s Theatre, Billet Lane, Hornchurch.

Tickets cost between £18.50 and £30 and can be purchased by calling the box office on 01708 443333.

Alternatively, stop by in person or book online at queens-theatre.co.uk.

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