WESTCHESTER THEATRE DEBUT: THE BIG BEAT BLASTS INTO CHAPPAQUA PERFORMING ARTS CENTER.
THE ROCK JAM SESSION THAT NEVER ENDS
WPCNR STAGE DOOR. THIRD ROW CENTER Theatrical Review By John F. Bailey. May 8, 2022:
It’s rock and roll raw.
Their guitars twang.
They sing the songs that live and make you feel alive and you are forever young.
Involuntarily, you tap your foot to the throb of the drums in your blood – the big beat really has its hold on you.
The immortals are back rasping, howling, growling raw excitement that gets to you like no other, sassed up with the zing, zip, rip rock of gladiator guitars!
The ethereal experience starts right from the first da da da da da da da of Blue Suede Shoes!
Nathan Burke’s Carl Perkins brings back one night that lives forever. The man who introduced rock and roll records, Sam Phillips, the mn who knew hits when he heard one recognized the infusion of joy in the rock and roll sound and rocked and rolled America forever by recording Elvis Presley on his studio in a chicken coop in Memphis
The original Fab Four get the “aging-up” jump, twist and jive in the red carpet posh-seated jury of the Chappaqua Performing Arts Center. The young get that itchy, twitchy feelin’ wondering what’s this music all about that makes me want to sing and shout.
The greatest hits from the Million Dollar Quartet of sullen, chilling cool and unleashed machismo of Jacob Barton as Elvis.
Trevor Dorner’s Arkansas drawlin’ piano pounding makes the 88 black and white keys shake with an over the top Jerry Lee Lewis.
Mike Potter’s slow-talkin deep haunting Johnny Cash the Man in Black
Nathan Burke’s Carl Perkins, the man in the Blue Suede Shoes, forever doomed to backup when Elvis stole his hit, but in this show he is the twanging riffmaster of the electric guitar. Wait until you hear his fingers and pick run out a flawless up-and-down-in-and-out master riffing of the greatest guitar solo of all-time on Houndog.
Million Dollar Quartet, The Gershwin Entertainment Production brought in by Bill Stutler, former Co-Producer of Westchester Broadway Theatre with Bob Funking the last 46 years, is tuning up for its national tour this summer.
MDQ gives the new Westchester Theatre a charismatic start bringing back and introducing the professional quality productions Westchester audiences have loved on 46 years . No dinner, just come to hear the music that’s all.
MDQ is not just a juke box musical, it looks back how Sam Phillips of Sun Records took the black sound of rhythm and blues and brought it to the repressed 1950s. Phillips freed a generation that changed the country and the world through its music releasing a young America to be themselves, a music that responded to their feelings, concerns, and anxieties and wrote about them perfectly.
This is the inside baseball of the recording business. It recreates a typical recording session where rivals and competitors try and one-up each other with riffs and get into playing different takes on their songs, styles and riffs while Mr. Phillips, played by Sean Casey Flanagan, is hilariously bombastic and promoty as the Sun Records operator. The audience is given an appreciation of the big business rock and roll records were about to become as old time recording giants vied to sign up Johnny Cash, after signing away Elvis Presley away from Sun Records.
The Phillips-released recording of Mystery Train first played on WERE in Cleveland in 1955 by the deejay Bob Randle, was Elvis Presley’s first hit that caused a sensation among the teenage girls of Cleveland when Randle played it.
You watch the session unfold, punctuated by the rivalries and the respect the four soon-to-be-legends had for each other’s talents.
First to come in is Jerry Lee Lewis who wants Mr. Phillips who’s looking for piano backup, to sign him to a contract, joined by Carl Perkins, who resents when Jerry tries to play piano to his Blue Suede Shoes session.
MDQ is a Tony Award Winner on Broadway. Its flawless telling and showing the interpersonal squabbles erupting and subsiding as song after song is performed, 23 in all, you get the magic. You realize the bond that these musical competitors who have made it, Cash and Presley and two who have not—show the anxieties of the entertainment business, put the pull it has on the performer. They love it.
The one thing that unites all four is they love to perform and play for the people. This wonderful bond of artist and audience is given realife credence and explains why artists are loved by their audiences.
They perform for you.
The mannerisms of Elvis Presley’s girl friend of the moment demo the fascination young women had for Elvis. Taylor Kraft as Dyanne is surly, tough, streetwise and has fondness “The King.”
Kraft credibly shows the fascination for the music she is hearing in her body language. His girl of the moment played by Taylor Kraft, an expert in the role, having played in MDQ productions for six years and now is joining her first national tour. She is not a spare part, but subtlely shows what made rock and roll music from these four legends the idle of teenage girls and women, so much that boys and men back in the day wanted to be like them. Dress like them, style their hair in the pompadour.
The actors perform with the spirits of these performers apparently taken over their actors’ bodies. The actors are all veterans in the roles—a hallmark of Westchester Broadway Theatre tradition now born again at Chappaqua Performing Arts Center.
The effect of the show for the audience is that of being guests in a recording studio “behind the glass” watching the very private chemistry between artists in a spectacle that has taken them over and changed their lives forever. Because it did. The audience in Saturday’s matinee were transported as the hits just kept on coming.
Jerry Lee’s Trevor Dorner sounded and played the old broken down piano like Jerry Lee. He captured Mr. Lewis raw sexual energy, ran the keys, and yes, played the piano with his feet.
Mike Potter, inhabited by the spirit of Johnny Cash sounded uncannily like Johnny, looked like him, he sounded spot-on on Folsom Prison Blues, Walk the Line, Sixteen Tons and of course, I Walk The Line. He even says, “Hello, I’m Johnny Cash,” just so right—and looks like him too, even to folding a 100 dollar bill under his guitar strings.
The show plays through May 22.
Bill Stutler, the impresario of Westchester Theatre greeted the matinee crowd at the doors of the theater.
When the emcee welcomed folks on stage, an old WBT tradition, mentioning Westchester Broadway, most of the audience clapped in appreciation. Waiting for the original hits and personalities who made them In a masterful guitar solo, startling drums by the tireless master of the BEAT, Mike Lucchetti and the man the big bass that throbbed, bobbed and laid tireless driving rhythm on and on, the full 2 hours nonstop hits, quips, stories, flares and beat-enthused energy, always impatient for the next great song.
They did not want to stop.
They played encores—Great Balls of Fire, Hound Dog, Ghost Riders in the Sky (right on by Mr. Potter’s Johnny Cash echoing voice) See You Later Alligator, and Whole Lotta Shakin’ Going On, and invited the audience to dance and it went on and on.
Oh what a night!
Mom will love it if she used to rock and roll.
Contact the Westchester Theatre at (866) 806-5777 or go online for tickets plays through May 22 at www.TheWestchesterTheatre.com.