Last Tuesday night, theatregoers were treated to a preview of the play Million Dollar Quartet at Theatre Aquarius. On his Facebook page, ETA Matt Cage, who stars as Elvis Presley in the play, informed followers that Tuesday was a “Pay What You Can” preview night. I was not aware such a bargain was offered by the theatre, so I am grateful to Matt for posting the information, and also grateful to ETA fan and friend, Dot Farr, for sending me a message about the preview event. I intended on buying a ticket next week, but Tuesday night's offer was too good to pass up.
Tuesday was my fourth time in two years seeing Million Dollar Quartet. The first time was a touring production that performed at the Avalon Theatre at Fallsview Casino. It was good entertainment, but the actor who played Elvis, while a good singer, was probably not an Elvis Tribute Artist, since the passion and understanding for the role that an ETA brings to their Elvis tribute, seemed to be missing. The second time I saw MDQ was at the Drayton Opera House last summer. Matt Cage, as a professional and award winning ETA, brought so much more to the part than just acting and singing the role of Elvis Presley. During the duration of the play, Matt embodied the King of Rock and Roll and brought an authenticity to his performance that only an ETA can deliver. Theatregoers who had not seen an ETA perform before were blown away by Matt’s performance. In a play where the most riotous lines and actions belong to the character Jerry Lee Lewis--so skillfully delivered at Drayton by actor Gerrard Everard, Matt’s presence on stage was mesmerizing. My experience at Drayton MDQ, which I detailed in an earlier blog, makes that particular performance one of my most memorable theatre moments. It was such a wonderful evening that I bought a second ticket for the following week.
What I enjoy the most about live theatre is that you can see the same play over and over again and never tire of the experience. Each director brings something new to their interpretation of the play. I know the storyline quite well from previous productions, but last Tuesday the nuances that director Ron Ulrich brought to the stage made the production fresh and exciting. I didn’t have to wait long to see Matt on stage, as he was part of the opening number. I found the role of Elvis to be more prominent during Tuesday’s play. The characters of Elvis and Dyanne presented a lively connection throughout the play. When I last saw Matt in MDQ, his character was primarily positioned on stage left. But for this production, Elvis performs most often centre stage.
The cast of professional actors, singers and musicians performed their respective roles with panache. The vocals were stellar, and the response from the audience was palatable. When I glanced across the front row of seats, I could see a lot of foot tapping and head bobbing to the music. Each individual performance was met with vigorous applause and cheers from the enthusiastic theatre patrons. I attended Tuesday’s preview performance primarily to see Matt reprise his role as Elvis. Having performed in MDQ numerous times over the past year at several Canadian theatres (Stage West Calgary, Drayton Entertainment, Royal MTC Winnipeg, Western Canada Theatre Kamloops, and CAA Theatre in Toronto), Matt brings a polished performance to Theatre Aquarius, Hamilton.
Set and costume designer, Ivan Brozic, brings 1956 to life in fine fashion. Marisa McIntyre, who plays the role of Elvis’s fictitious girlfriend, Dyanne, and who delivered a killer rendition of the song “Fever”, looked stunning in her 50’s styled costumes. The artfully designed stage setting, along with great sound and lighting, gave an authentic 50s vibe. During the last few minutes of the play, the four main characters, Carl, Johnny, Jerry Lee, and Elvis, dressed in bedazzled jackets, take the stage for an all-out finale. First-class performances of each character’s signature song brought the audience to their feet. Dressed in his gold, rhinestone studded jacket, Matt demonstrated with his performance why he has a legion of fans. One lucky lady was rewarded with a scarf for her enthusiasm during Matt's electrifying performance. The audience was encouraged by all the actors to sing along during the finale. Having the audience participate was great fun, and everyone left feeling very good about their evening at Theatre Aquarius.
I encourage everyone to buy a ticket to see Million Dollar Quartet at Theatre Aquarius. Whether it is your first or fourth time, you will enjoy this production. Excelling in their roles, Kevin Aichele as Johnny Cash and Kale Penny as Carl Perkins, with long lists of professional theatre credits, give must-see performances. Christo Graham, as a fiery Jerry Lee Lewis, is uproarious. The character of Jerry Lee has some of the best lines in the play, and Christo delivers them brilliantly. Maria McIntyre, an award winning actress and singer, brings power and beauty to her vocals and presence on stage. Leon Wiley is splendid in the role of Sam Phillips beautifully conveying the emotions that his character experiences. The four leads, who all play an instrument, are accompanied by Justin Ruppel as W.S. “Flake” Holland, and Evan Stewart as Brother Jay, who both bring musical expertise to their debut roles at Theatre Aquarius and round out a great cast. Musical Director, Van Wilmott, brings his years as a professional musician to this production of Million Dollar Quartet. And all ETA fans will love Matt Cage in the role he has 'rehearsed' for more than seven years.
Matt originally had planned on meeting theatre goers in the lobby; however, a cast meeting necessitated a change in plans. ETA fans know that the after show meet-and-greet is an integral part of the ETA/Fan relationship. Photos are not allowed during the play; however I was able to snap a couple of photos of Matt as he left the theatre that I am pleased to share. Thank you, Matt.
Matt and other actors plan on appearing in the lobby after upcoming regular performances.
I wish to thank Irene, Michael, and Cathy who through their kind gesture ensured I was able to get a great seat for viewing the play for this article.
See you all soon, perhaps at my fifth MDQ performance! Best regards, Carolyn