Million Dollar Quartet, which returns to the Orpheum this week, is a fictionalized account of the one and only occasion when Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Johnny Cash were all at Sun Studio together, December 4, 1956. In retrospect, after all the music, movies, TV shows, and this hard-touring Broadway musical, setting the value at only a million bucks seems like quite the bargain.
M$Q, one of the better jukebox musicals to come down the pike, doesn't really have a plot, but here's the situation: Elvis has gone to RCA. Cash and Perkins have both got deals with Columbia but haven't told Sun Studio founder Sam Phillips yet. And Phillips has a secret too. He's been offered a chance to move to New York and join Elvis at RCA. But as he watches his most famous artists leave for greener pastures, Phillips becomes more convinced that he belongs in Memphis and swears he'd rather sell a hundred records made his way than a million with somebody else pulling the strings. It's a resonant concept for people who live in a place where artists and businessmen have so famously gone their own way, for better and for worse.
"This is where the soul of a man never dies," the fictionalized Phillips says, surveying a fair approximation of his modest studio at 706 Union Avenue.
When it comes to marrying the dramatic elements to music, Jersey Boys is still a better jukebox biography. But Frankie Valli and crew need to watch out for these four hillbilly hellhounds on their trail.
Million Dollar Quartet, March 26th-30th, the Orpheum. $20-$80. Orpheum-Memphis.com