Out & About: Top tix: ‘Million Dollar Quartet,' IIIrd Tyme Out

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The summer arts and entertainment calendar may be winding down, but this week’s top tickets prove how much energy remains.

“Million Dollar Quartet,” currently running at Ogunquit Playhouse, is based on the historical 1956 recording session that brought together four pioneers of rock-and-roll: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.

All four of those young men began in the southern tradition of country music before turning the proverbial corner. IIIrd Tyme Out, a five-man bluegrass band that will be visiting Portland on Saturday, aims is to preserve and honor those same southern musical traditions.

Arundel Barn Playhouse wraps up its 2015 season with “Beehive,” a pleasant and thoughtful jukebox musical that revolves around pop tunes of the 1960s.

‘Million Dollar Quartet’

On Dec. 4, 1956, singer-guitarist Carl Perkins was scheduled to record several new songs at the Sun Records studio in Memphis, Tennessee. Perkins had already scored a chart-topper with “Blue Suede Shoes,” which he wrote, and he was aiming for his second big success.

Sun Records owner Sam Phillips also brought in a young piano whiz, Jerry Lee Lewis, as a session musician. Midway through the day, Perkins, Lewis and Phillips were joined by two other musicians with Sun contracts: Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash. Following the scheduled recordings, an impromptu jam developed that lasted all afternoon.

Recognizing the uniqueness of the situation, Phillips called a newspaper, and the next day a photo and story appeared under the headline “Million Dollar Quartet.”

That’s the real story that underlies one of the most electrifying jukebox musicals ever created, “Million Dollar Quartet,” written by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux. Their script relates a story that actually happened over a six-month period, compressed for artistic unity into a few hours. The show contains 23 songs, representing early hits by all four men.

These include Perkins’ “Blue Suede Shoes” and “Matchbox,” Lewis’ “Real Wild Child” and “Whole Lotta Shakin’ Goin’ On,” Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” and “I Walk the Line” and Presley’s “That’s All Right” and “Hound Dog.” An additional two songs are performed by “Dyanne,” Presley’s fictional girlfriend.

“Million Dollar Quartet” debuted in Florida in 2006, and opened on Broadway in 2010, receiving four Tony nominations, winning one. A long national tour wrapped up this past June, and performing rights were released at the same time.

Ogunquit Playhouse scored first-summer rights to “Million Dollar Quartet” and opened it last weekend to sold-out audiences. It was sensationally good. All four principal actors are spot-on, both in looks, voice and mannerisms: Robert Britton Lyons as Perkins, Nat Zegree as Lewis, Scott Moreau as Cash and Jacob Rowley as Presley. Lyons originated his role on Broadway and has been with the show throughout its life. Moreau and Rowley were on the national tour. (Moreau grew up in Litchfield, Maine.)

Additionally, Jason Loughlin plays Phillips and Bligh Voth takes the role of “Dyanne.” Hunter Foster, who was cast as Phillips on Broadway, directs Ogunquit’s production.

I expect that tickets will be hard to get for this show, and quite deservedly so.

Ogunquit Playhouse, a mile south of the village on Route 1, presents “Million Dollar Quartet” through Sept. 19. Call 646-5511 or visit ogunquitplayhouse.org.

IIIrd Tyme Out

On Sept. 4, one of America’s most-lauded bluegrass bands will travel to Bristol, Tennessee, to release its latest CD at a concert at the Birthplace of Country Music Museum. But Portlanders won’t have to wait that long to hear the new music; the band will appear at One Longfellow Square this Saturday.

Formed by Russell Moore in 1991, IIIrd Tyme Out is one of the most-honored ensembles of its genre, copping a slew of awards from the International Bluegrass Music Association. These honors include seven for Best Vocal Group and three Best Male Vocalist honors for the front man himself.

The Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America has also recognized IIIrd Tyme Out with a staggering total of 26 awards, in categories ranging from mandolin and fiddle to gospel.

The band comprises five members in an instrumental configuration that’s the standard of the genre. Moore is the principal singer and plays rhythm guitar. Backing vocals are provided by the other four: banjoist Keith McKinnon, fiddler Justen Haynes, mandolinist Wayne Benson and bassist Blake Johnson.

They’re regulars at the Grand Ole Opry and on the bluegrass festival circuit, where I’ve heard them several times over the past decade. They’re absolutely top tier, and I’ve already reserved my tickets for Saturday.

Since 1991 IIIrd Tyme Out has released 14 albums plus two compilations of greatest hits. In a few weeks they’ll release their 15th, titled “It’s About Tyme,” which contains 15 tracks, many of which will be performed on Saturday.

Catch Russell Moore and IIIrd Tyme Out on Aug. 29 at 8 p.m. at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.


Arundel Barn Playhouse wraps up its 2015 season this weekend with a jukebox musical based on hit songs by girl groups and female artists of the 1960s. “Beehive,” named for the popular hairdo of the time, was created by Larry Gallagher in 1985, and has been one of the most successful shows of its genre in the 30 years since.

“Beehive” targets the Baby Boom generation. All the songs are pop hits from the 1960s, penned by various composers and lyricists and first recorded by girl groups such as the Angels, Chiffons, Shirelles and Supremes, or by solo female artists such as Connie Francis, Aretha Franklin, Lesley Gore and Brenda Lee.

The show opens with light-hearted teen songs, but the mood gets darker as the evening progresses. These darker themes include the Vietnam war, civil rights struggles, women’s liberation, parental conflicts and drugs. The penultimate musical number concludes with Janis Joplin, the female exemplar of the period’s lifestyle excesses, lying dead on the stage, killed by her well-publicized addiction to drink and drugs.

The evening’s top performance is delivered by Roslyn Seale; her best numbers channel Tina Turner and Aretha Franklin. Almost as effective are Brigette Estola as Janis Joplin and Annelise Ceprano as Diana Ross.

I also like Caroline Keegan as Lesley Gore, Allison Sandler as Petula Clark and Virginia Vass as the Chiffons’ lead singer.

Arundel Barn Playhouse, 53 Old Post Road (just off Route 1) presents “Beehive” through Aug. 29. Call 985-5552 or visit arundelbarnplayhouse.com.

“Million Dollar Quartet,” at Ogunquit Playhouse, is a high-voltage jukebox musical based on the studio session that brought together four of the pioneers of rock-and-roll: Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins, Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis.