In Concert

These days – these days of fractured politics and fraudulent politicians and fake news, and all of the fear they’ve collectively caused our country – perhaps we could all use a little comfort food, be it literal or figurative. And for a couple hours on Sunday night at Ravinia, that’s what John Mellencamp and Carlene Carter dished out – American music that was comforting while still completely captivating.

American music, of course, is Ms. Carter’s birthright. By nature and by nurture, the daughter of June Carter and stepdaughter of Johnny Cash was meant to grace the stage, and oh boy, did she ever. The strains of her guitar and twang of her voice filling the night air, Carter welcomed the crowd as they filed to their seats. Regaling us with stories of a life lived among musical royalty (one yarn involved a late-1960's Kris Kristofferson in leather pants and a helicopter), Carlene gifted us with her own God-given talent. Setting down her guitar to sit down at the piano, she shared the personal loss of her mother and stepdaddy with the hymnal “Lonesome Valley.” Leading us north shore folks in an acapella “Will the Circle Be Unbroken,” she winkingly assured us that our rendition was alright, even though we’re no Carter Family.

This professionalism continued as members of the headlining band took the stage, decked out in black suits and armed with hollow-body guitars, a violin, faux-distressed drumkit, and even an accordion. The music of a newer number, “Lawless Times” from 2014’s Plain Spoken, began. And then that familiar face and comforting form of John Mellencamp strolled out, Telecaster guitar strapped over black duds that would’ve made the afore-mentioned Mr. Cash proud, as confident and cocksure as he was decades ago.

The opener was a newer song, but the weathered voice, the still-handsome face, and the populist politics – sentiments both working-class and progressive? How vintage! How quaint! – were anything but. This was the guy – the legend, the hall-of-famer, the working man’s musician – the crowd had come to see. And their hero delivered.

After another more recent number, Mellencamp dove into his back catalogue with renditions of “Minutes to Memories” and “Small Town” off the once-ubiquitous Scarecrow, the crowd eager to leap to its feet and sing along.

After introducing himself and his band, Mellencamp traveled back in time even further with a modern blues take – just vocals, slide guitar, and upright bass – on Robert Johnson’s haunting “Stones in My Passway.”

Again returning to his own work, Mellencamp sang “Pop Singer,” which could just as easily critique today’s fleeting and narcissistic culture as the one nearly three decades ago, as could 1987’s “Check It Out.” The only updates these songs got were thanks to the mature and polished backing band Mellencamp brought and the weathered rasp that age has brought him.

The next song didn’t need the stellar backing musicians or their bevy of instruments to make it powerful. Clutching his acoustic guitar, today’s John Mellencamp told the tale of how a 24-year-old version of himself penned “Jack and Diane” while torn between dreams of songwriting stardom and the more worldly concerns 20-somethings have always had. And strumming said guitar, he allowed the crowd of equally aged folks to take the lead, literally, singing the lead vocal we all know…or at least thought we did. When the crowd skipped the second verse, instead plowing into that beloved chorus, Mellencamp corrected us before continuing. But that chorus of voices made “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone” float through the summer air, sounding every bit the hymn or old standard it has become.

Carlene Carter then returned for a couple of tunes, including “My Soul’s Got Wings,” whose lyrics were once written by Woody Guthrie, only to be given the Mermaid Avenue treatment (given music and a proper recording) by Mellencamp on this year’s Sad Clowns & Hillbillies. A lovely overture by the band’s violinist and accordion player was played before the crowd again got the classics, in the form of “Rain on the Scarecrow” and “Crumblin’ Down.” When each of these was played, the audience leapt to its feet, especially going footloose for “Authority Song,” whose authoritative target most of them have become all these years later.

But that was not the point of the show. Who we were – and how that’s not so different than who we are now – was what mattered. And as we embraced John Mellencamp’s songs, singing with him, all together for one glorious night, he provided the comfort and familiarity that was underscored by the main set’s closer, “Pink Houses”: “Ain’t that America, somethin’ to see…”

For one night, we forgot about the world outside. It sure was somethin’ to see.

 

Published in In Concert

Paramount Theatre is excited to tune up for its rollicking 2017-18 Broadway Series opener Million Dollar Quartet, the wildly popular rock and roll musical that played more than 2,500 performances in Chicago.

Travel back in time to Memphis’s Sun Records recording studio on December 4, 1956, when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins played together their first and only time and created an explosive album that has yet to be matched. Million Dollar Quartet tells that story with all the raw energy and monumental talent everyone has come to expect from these music giants.

Paramount Artistic Director Jim Corti, the man responsible for the past two Jeff Award-winning Best Musicals (Large), Les Misérables and West Side Story, will stage Paramount’s rockin’ opener.

Playing the Quartet are Adam Wesley Brown as Carl Perkins, Kavan Hashemian as Elvis Presley, Gavin Rohrer as Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Scott Sheets as Johnny Cash, with Nicholas Harazin as Sam Phillips, Zach Lentino as Brother Jay, Courtney Mack as Dyanne and Scott Simon as Fluke.

The production team is Kory Danielson, music director; Trent Stork, associate director; Ethan Deppe, associate music director; Kevin Depinet, scenic design; Sally Dolembo, costume design; Jesse Klug, lighting design; Adam Rosenthal, sound designer; Katie Cordts, wig, hair and makeup design; Amanda Relaford, properties design; Susan Gosdick, dialect coach; Maggie O’Donnell, stage manager; and Matthew McMullen, assistant stage manager. 

Don’t miss Paramount’s high-spirited, nostalgic new take on the three-time Tony Award nominated musical, featuring some of the biggest and best songs of all time like “Peace in the Valley,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “I Walk the Line,” “Hound Dog” and “Great Balls of Fire.”

Previews start September 13. Performances continue through October 29: Wednesday at 1:30 p.m. and 7 p.m.; Thursday at 7 p.m.; Friday at 8 p.m.; Saturday at 3 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 1 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. Single tickets are $36 to $64. Million Dollar Quartet is rated PG.

But hold on, there’s still time to include Million Dollar Quartet in Paramount’s “Buy Two Shows, Get Two Shows Free” 2017-18 Broadway subscription offer. For less than the cost of a ticket to one show downtown, patrons can see three more Broadway-quality musicals: Elf The Musical (November 22-January 7), Cabaret (February 7–March 18) and Once (April 25-June 3). Four-play packages start as low as $72. The rewards are ample – four amazing, Broadway-quality musicals, at one of the most majestic theaters in the Midwest.

The Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in downtown Aurora, is surrounded by affordable parking and a variety of restaurants for pre- or post-show dining. For subscriptions and single tickets, visit ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount box office Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., and two hours prior to evening performances.

Behind the scenes: Paramount’s Million Dollar Quartet

There was no plan for Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins to record together on December 4, 1956. But as fate would have it, their impromptu jam session left behind a historic and mind-blowing album. The evening begins in the Sun Records recording studio in Memphis. Up and comer Jerry Lee Lewis is recording songs with rockabilly king Carl Perkins when the iconic Elvis Presley stops by with his girlfriend. The not-quite-yet-guitar-god Johnny Cash is there to pay a visit to music manager Sam Phillips. Throw them all together, and you have one of the most unexpected, unprecedented and unforgettable musical moments in history. It was the first and only time they played together and, through their musical genius, created an explosive album that has yet to be matched.   

Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux wrote the book for Million Dollar Quartet based on Mutrux’s original concept and direction. The Chicago production ran from 2008 to 2016 and became the third longest-running show in Chicago theater history. Critics called it “the most exuberant theatrical event,” “dazzling from first beat to last” and “the best live rock ‘n’ roll show I have ever seen.”

Fast forward to the kick off of Chicago’s 2017-18 theater season, featuring Paramount’s talented lead cast for Million Dollar Quartet. Adam Wesley Brown (Carl Perkins) played Eamon in Once on Broadway, has numerous regional credits and has been seen on local stages including Lookingglass and Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Kavan Hashemian (Elvis Presley) began performing his Elvis tribute at age three. Today he performs all over the world, including in London where he won the title of "The World's #1 Rock N Roll Elvis” on BBC-TV. Gavin Rohrer (Jerry Lee Lewis) is fresh from playing the role at Lyric Theatre in Oklahoma City, where Broadwayworld.com raved “his piano skills are unrivaled, and his brash certainty provides some of the funniest moments of the night.” Bill Scott Sheets (Johnny Cash) just played the “Man in Black” at Berkshire Theatre Group in Massachusetts. Berkshire Fine Arts wrote “particularly strong was Bill Sheets, whose voice and delivery were sublime.” 

"Icons Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash were southern, rockabilly country boys before they were discovered by Sam Phillips, the young, upstart record producer and owner of Sun Studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Their purely by chance meeting for the first and only time on Dec. 4, 1956, is a seminal moment in the birth of Rock ‘N’ Roll,” said Paramount Artistic Director Jim Corti.

“The show, exploring the connections of these four to their music and each other, is full of intriguing surprises and is not only a fascinating, short history but a full scale, no holds barred, in-your-face jam session of the kind of music that grabbed hold of our youth culture back then and hasn’t let go ever since,” Corti added. “From our Chicago and national talent pool, we’ve assembled a dynamite cast; you won’t believe your eyes and ears! There’ll be a whole lot of shakin’ goin’ on, all live, all on the Paramount stage, all made in Aurora!”

Jim Corti (director) was hired in 2011 to be the first-ever artistic director in the Paramount’s 80+ year history. He was instrumental in launching Paramount’s inaugural Broadway Series and directed and choreographed Paramount’s first self-produced Broadway Series show My Fair Lady, which played to rave reviews. Corti’s 2013 Paramount production of Fiddler on the Roof was a smash hit, and his Miss Saigon was the only musical to make the Chicago Tribune’s Top Ten Shows of 2013. Rentin 2014 was a critical and box office success, followed by consecutive productions of The Who’s Tommy and Les Misérables, which collectively garnered five Jeff Awards for Paramount in its first year of eligibility, including Best Production – Musical - Large for Les Misérables and Best Director - Musical for Corti. He also staged Paramount’s 2015-16 opener Oklahoma! and closer West Side Story, Paramount’s second-consecutive Jeff Award winning Best Musical. Last season, Corti directed memorable productions of Mamma Mia! and Sweeney Todd. Before Paramount, Corti was a seasoned Broadway veteran, appearing in the New York casts of Ragtime, A Chorus Line and Candide and national tours of Urinetown, Cabaret and Bob Fosse’s Dancin’. Career highlights over three decades include being the only director in Chicago to have two productions at the same time in the Chicago Tribune’s list of 10 Best Shows in 2009 – Drury Lane’s Cabaret and Writers Theatre’s Oh, Coward!. He remains the sole honoree to have garnered a Jeff Award as an actor (in Marriott’s Grand Hotel), a choreographer (Drury Lane’s Singin’ in the Rain) and director (Paramount’s Les Misérables, Drury Lane’s Sweet Charity and Northlight’s Blues in the Night).

Kory Danielson (music director) is coming back for his 11th consecutive musical at the Paramount, after serving as co-music director and associate conductor with Tom Vendafreddo on Jesus Christ Superstar, and assistant music director and associate conductor for Sweeney Todd-The Demon Barber of Fleet Street, Disney’s The Little Mermaid, Mamma Mia!, West Side Story, Hairspray – The Broadway Musical, A Christmas Story - The Musical, Oklahoma!, Les Misérables and The Who's Tommy. Other Chicago credits include Assassins, The Full Monty, Loving Repeating, Heathers, Tomorrow Morning (Kokandy Productions); Passion (2014 Jeff Award for Outstanding Music Direction), Smokey Joe's Cafe (Theo Ubique); How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (Porchlight Music Theatre); Hedwig, Wedding Singer (Haven Theatre); and Zanna, Don't!, Lucky Stiff, Triumph of Love (The Music Theatre Company). Danielson has also worked with Drury Lane, Broadway in Chicago, Chicago Children's Theatre, Bailiwick and Hell in a Handbag.

Paramount’s 2017-18 Broadway Series is sponsored by BMO Harris Bank and The Dunham Fund. Broadway Series Orchestra Sponsor is Rush-Copley Medical Center. Broadway Series Lighting Sponsor is ComEd. Broadway Series Costume Sponsor is Gerald Kia. Million Dollar Quartet is also sponsored by Asbury Gardens.


More about Paramount Theatre’s 2017-18 Season

In addition to Paramount’s Broadway Series, Paramount’s 2017-18 season also includes Tim Allen (August 18), 60s music favorite The Happy Together Tour (August 25), Unforgettable: Falling in Love with Nat King Cole (November 5) featuring Evan Tyrone Martin (Jesus in Paramount’s 2017 smash hit Jesus Christ Superstar), comedian and impersonator Frank Caliendo (November 10), The Second City’s Non-Denominational Christmas Show (December 1-23 in the Copley Theatre), Las Vegas’s #1 ventriloquist Terry Fator (January 20), the incredible magic of Penn & Teller (March 23), Chicago’s own Jersey boys Under the Streetlamp (March 24), country star and American Idol winner Scotty McCreery (March 25), late night comedy legend Jay Leno (April 13), Judy Garland: Come Rain or Come Shinef eaturing Angela Ingersoll (June 10) and the world’s #1 Bee Gees tribute band Stayin’ Alive (June 15).

For subscriptions, single tickets or more information, go to ParamountAurora.com, call (630) 896-6666, or stop by the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd. in Aurora.

 

 

Published in Upcoming Theatre

One could only picture what would have happened should four of the greatest rock and roll pioneers ever stepped foot in the same studio at the same time. And just imagine if the above referenced were Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Johnny Cash. Well, one winter afternoon in December of 1956, that’s exactly what occurred when these four music trendsetters met unexpectedly at Sun Records in Memphis, Tennessee. Though no one really knows all the details of what happened during that meeting, most are quite certain a jam session like no other took place, later earning the four the nickname “The Million Dollar Quartet”.

MillionDollarQuartet-lasvegasCurrently playing at Harrah’s Showroom at Harrah’s Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas and at the Apollo Theatre in Chicago, Million Dollar Quartet brilliantly takes its audience into the Sun Records studio where it combines theatre with a truly entertaining rock and roll show. Filled with jaw-dropping singing and instrumental feats, Million Dollar Quartet in fact conveys the excitement of mid-1950’s rock music while at the same time providing viewers with a good feel for the time period itself. Let’s focus on the Las Vegas production, which is certainly on par with Chicago’s.

Million Dollar Quartet does not require elaborate set changes, taking place entirely in a recording studio (Sun) converted from an auto parts store. The show makes its mark as one of the hottest shows on stage thanks to its amazing musical performances, well-defined characters and a storyline that perfectly delivers the enthralled, but forceful supposition of “What could have been?” The story also points to the importance of Sun Records and their impact on the music world, mainly owner Sam Phillips (superbly played by Marc D. Donovan) and his ability to recognize and shape the talent of each recording artist, by having them reach inside themselves.

What contributes greatly in making Million Dollar Quartet so special is the incredible cast they managed to assemble. Not only does the Las Vegas cast deliver the personality traits and behaviors of each, including Jerry Lee Lewis’ dancing eyebrows and Elvis’ sneers and unique body language, but it is each actor’s ability to convincingly sing as their character along with their musicianship that takes this show to a much higher altitude.

At times, Martin Kaye literally makes the audience forget they are not watching the real Jerry Lee Lewis with his maniacal piano playing intertwined with the showmanship that helped the rockin’ pianist become famous. Robert Britton Lyon’s sizzling guitar licks and strong vocals makes a highly believable Carl Perkins, while Benjamin D. Hale nails Johnny Cash with spot on singing and his ability to capture his live qualities. Justin Shandor who first stuns the crowd with his accurate rendition of “That’s All Right” and then later seals the deal with a classic performance of “Hound Dog” plays Elvis Presley. The cast is rounded out by studio session players Fluke (Mark Ferratt) and Jay Perkins (Josh Jones) who are a show worth watching in their own right, and Felice Garcia plays Elvis’ Girlfriend Dyanne that joins in the jam session with a couple songs of her own including an inspired version of “Fever”.

Million Dollar Quartet starts off with a bang with “Blue Suede Shoes” and then continues to highlight memorable songs from each performer including “Folsom Prison Blues”, “Who Do You Love”, “Great Balls of Fire”, “Peace in the Valley” and many more. A good mix of concert and theatre, the show is heartfelt, entertaining and will be sure to leave a lasting impression, not to mention have many go searching through their record collection when they get home. This is definitely a show you want to check in while in Las Vegas that embodies rock n’ roll fun throughout and ends on a high note with its dynamic ending as a big Las Vegas show should.

Million Dollar Quartet is currently playing at Harrah’s Showroom in Las Vegas, the Apollo Theatre in Chicago and is also touring nationally. For more information visit www.milliondollarquartetlive.com

Published in Theatre Reviews

 

 

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