Million Dollar Quartet on tap Dec. 11 in Kennewick

Dori O'Neal, Tri-City HeraldDecember 3, 2013 

In 1956, four not-yet-famous musicians ran into each other at the Sun Records recording studio in Memphis and ended up in an impromptu jam session.

Those musicians were Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Fame and fortune came to each of those guys down the road, and that long-lost jam session was made into a musical titled Million Dollar Quartet, which comes to the Tri-Cities on Dec. 11.

The musical story debuted at a small theater in Issaquah near Seattle in 2007. The production moved to Chicago for a year's run in 2008, had a two-month run on Broadway in 2010 then went to London in 2011.

Actor Vince Nappo plays Sam Phillips, which is the only nonmusical role in Million Dollar Quartet.

"Sam was a major player in the music revolution that happened back in the '50s," Nappo said in a telephone interview with the Herald. "He started Sun Records and discovered all four of these guys."

He's also the guy credited with kicking off Elvis Presley's career, but sold his contract to RCA before he became a megastar.

The Million Dollar Quartet story follows what happened that day, Dec. 4, 1956. Perkins, who was perhaps the best-known country singer at the time, was recording a new song with the unknown Lewis accompanying on piano.

As the story goes, Nappo said, it's believed Cash dropped by to listen to Perkins record that day. At some point during the afternoon, Presley also dropped by the studio to visit Phillips, who had recently sold his contract to RCA. When the four got together, the magic soon emerged.

Portraying the legendary singers are James Barry as Perkins, John Countryman as Lewis, Tyler Hunter as Presley and Scott Moreau as Cash.

Million Dollar Quartet has all the legendary music these guys made famous. Songs like Blue Suede Shoes, Fever, That's All Right, Sixteen Tons, Great Balls of Fire, Walk the Line, Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On, Who Do You Love?, Matchbox, Folsom Prison Blues and Hound Dog, just to name a few.

"My parents were huge Elvis fans, so I grew up listening to his music," Nappo said. "I do sing a little bit in the show, but mostly I narrate."

Nappo also said that during the past year as a member of the cast, he's learned a lot about music history, and the valuable insight Phillips gave to the music industry.

"This show is really about Sam's life and his contribution and vision about the future of rock 'n' roll," he said. "He knew how to unlock talent, and the audience will see that side of him. Sam steps out of the studio and talks to the audience. He was always the behind-the-scenes guy."

Nappo grew up in Michigan and got into drama in high school. After studying at a community college near his home, he moved to Washington to study theater at Western Washington University in Bellingham. After earning his degree, he also had theater training in Wales at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama.

His TV credits include Red Widow, Friends With Kids, Killing Lincoln, Merchant of Venice and Boeing Boeing.

"Being on the road can get weary," Nappo said. "But Million Dollar Quartet is the kind of show that's fun to do every single night, especially when you see the audience having as much fun listening as you are performing."

Showtime is 7:30 p.m. in the Windermere Theatre at the Toyota Center in Kennewick. Tickets cost from $32-$67 and are available at the Toyota Center box office or www.ticketmaster.com. Tickets purchased at the box office avoid service charges.

-- Dori O'Neal: 582-1514; doneal@tricityherald.com; Twitter: @dorioneal

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