Tuesday, February 19, 2019

REVIEW: Million Dollar Quartet at Munster’s Theatre at the Center (TATC) Through March 31, 2019

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Zachary Stevenson as Carl Perkins, Michael Kurowski as Jerry Lee Lewis, Tommy Malouf as Johnny Cash, Zach Sorrow as Elvis Presley and Michael Sinclair as Brother Jay
© Theatre at the Center, photo by Guy Rhodes

Guest Review
by Milan Pejnovich 

I had the pleasure of attending Munster’s Theatre at the Center (TATC) opening night performance of Million Dollar Quartet, the famed jukebox musical that had a pre-Broadway run in Chicago for nearly eight years before transferring to New York, London’s West End, a national tour that is still ongoing, and a competing local production on the opposite side of the metro area at the Marriott in Lincolnshire. 

 Zachary Stevenson as Carl Perkins 
© Theatre at the Center, photo by Guy Rhodes

left to right - Michael Kurowski
as Jerry Lee Lewis, Tommy Malouf as Johnny Cash, Michael Sinclair as Brother Jay (background), Zachary Stevenson as Carl Perkins and Zach Sorrow as Elvis Presley
© Theatre at the Center, photo by Guy Rhodes

This is very much TATC’s production, however, with scenic design by TATC’s own head of production Ann Davis, costume design by TATC’s costume shop manager Caitlin Dalton, lighting design by Denise Karczewski (who lists at least twelve other TATC productions in her credits), sound design by Barry G. Funderburg (who states that this is his 40th TATC production), and musical direction by TATC’s resident music director William Underwood. All should be proud of what they’ve accomplished here, as it is most definitely a toe-tapping, hand-clapping, butt-raising night with the oldies.

The cast of Theatre at the Center's 2019 Season Opener "Million Dollar Quartet" actors Michael Kurowski, Zachary Stevenson, Tommy Malouf, and Zach Sorrow perform "Blue Suede Shoes" All rights reserved. Used by permission.

For those of you unfamiliar with the story despite its over 3000 performances at Chicago’s Apollo Theater from 2008-2016, the Million Dollar Quartet of the title actually happened. Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Carl Perkins all coincidentally found themselves in the same Sun Records studio on December 4, 1956, and were persuaded to record a session by the legendary rock and roll pioneer, owner and impresario Sam Phillips. The musical imagines and dramatizes what might have happened in such heady circumstances, and it also offers an excuse to trot out hit after hit from the birth of rock and roll. All four musical giants are well represented in the song list – “Hound Dog,” “I Walk the Line,” “Great Balls of Fire,” and “Blue Suede Shoes” make appearances along with nearly twenty others – but I’m surprised the title isn’t Million Dollar Quintet, as the actress who plays Elvis’s girlfriend at the time also contributes a couple of standout female-fronted gems, “Fever” and “I Hear You Knocking.”

Speaking of the cast, all have impressive pedigrees, many of which having appeared in similar productions. Michael Kurowski (Lewis) previously appeared in Million Dollar Quartet at the Paramount in Aurora, Zach Sorrow (Presley) understudied the role of Elvis in the Chicago premiere of Heartbreak Hotel, Tony Malouf (Cash) played the Man in Black in Ring of Fire, and Zachary Stevenson (Perkins) won a Jeff Award last year for his lead performance in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story. Rounding out the cast are Sean Fortunato as Phillips, Aeriel Williams as Elvis’s girlfriend Dyanne, and musicians Michael Sinclair and Nick Anderson as the house band.

The cast of Theatre at the Center's 2019 Season Opener "Million Dollar Quartet" actors Aeriel Williams, Michael Kurowski, Zachary Stevenson, Tommy Malouf, and Zach Sorrow perform "I Hear You Knockin" All rights reserved. Used by permission.

All of which is to say that the powers that be at TATC knew what they were doing when they planned an extended 7-week run for this show from the outset. It will most definitely bring in audiences and have them leave with smiles on their faces and songs in their hearts, so don’t be apart from the crowd. Bring the whole family down to Munster and enjoy yourselves with some timeless music!

Milan Pejnovich has nearly 30 years of experience in marketing and the performing arts, including positions as the Audience Services Manager at Court Theatre and the Marketing Manager at Northlight Theatre. He also spent many years in house manager positions at Penn State’s Center for the Performing Arts, About Face Theatre, Court Theatre, and Northwestern University. He is currently the manager of Strategic Marketing for the Arts, which provides telemarketing and telefunding services to over three dozen non-profit arts organizations nationwide, including Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Playwrights Horizons and MCC Theater off-Broadway, and the Omaha Symphony, Long Beach Opera, Denver Film Society and Cincinnati Ballet.

Director Daryl Brooks has cast Zack Sorrow as Elvis Presley, Michael Kurowski as Jerry Lee Lewis, Tommy Malouf as Johnny Cash, Zachary Stevenson as Carl Perkins, Sean Fortunato as record producer Sam Phillips and Aeriel Williams as singer Dyanne in Theatre at the Center‘s production of Million Dollar Quartet. Additional cast members include musicians Michael Sinclair as Jay and Nick Anderson as Fluke. Previews begin February 14 with Opening Night on February 17 and a continued run through March 31. This production is sponsored by Pat Binkley.

Million Dollar Quartet is the hit musical with a book by Colin Escott and Floyd Mutrux based on the true events of a night in rock ‘n’ roll history. It dramatizes an actual recording session on Dec. 4, 1956 at the Sun Records recording studio in Memphis, Tennessee when Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins and Elvis Presley assembled for an impromptu jam session. The story explains Perkins was there to record songs with a new performer, Jerry Lee Lewis. Elvis happened to visit the studio with his girlfriend at the time, just as Johnny Cash stopped in to speak with recording impresario Sam Phillips, who is eager to re-sign Cash to a new contract, unaware he has already signed with Columbia Records.

Actors Michael Kurowski, Zach Sorrow, Aeriel Williams, Zachary Stevenson and Tommy Malouf. Photo by Brett Beiner.

Zach Sorrow returns to TATC after his performance in last year’s production of Big River. This is his second time playing Elvis, after understudying in the Chicago premiere of Heartbreak Hotel. Sorrow played Rolf in The Sound of Music at the Lyric Opera of Chicago. His regional credits include Lucas in The Addams Family at the New Theatre Restaurant and Doody in Grease for Royal Caribbean cruise line.

Michael Kurowski is making his Theatre at the Center debut. He recently appeared as Tootles in Peter Pan: A Musical Adventure at Chicago Shakespeare and he won a Jeff Award for Best Ensemble in Posh at Steep Theater. His onscreen credits include Gran Torino, The Armed Boy and Chicago Fire.

Also new to the TATC stage is Zachary Stevenson, a rock ‘n roll guitarist and singer who made his Chicago debut in Buddy: The Buddy Holly Story and received a Jeff Award for his performance. Select credits include Hank Williams, the Show He Never Gave, Ring of Fire, Hair, Urinetown, Assassins. Stevenson also served as musical director for Million Dollar Quartet at Arts Club Theatre and Ring of Fire at Chemainus Theatre Festival.

Tommy Malouf is also making his TATC debut as Johnny Cash. He previously played “Man in Black” Cash in Ring of Fire at Metropolitan Performing Arts Center. Other credits include Heartbreak Hotel at Broadway Playhouse, The Light Fantastic at Jackalope and Great Expectations at Remy Bumpo/Silk Road Rising.

Sean Fortuanto returns to TATC where he appeared as the Emcee in Cabaret, Lancelot in Spamalot, Franz in The Producers and Max in Lend Me a Tenor. Other credits include Malvolio in Twelfth Night, The Dairy of Anne Frank and Hedda Gabler at Writers Theatre, Book of Joseph and King Charles III at Chicago Shakespeare Theater and Measure for Measure at Goodman Theatre. He has received six Jeff Award nominations and an After Dark award.

Aeriel Williams makes her debut at TATC in the role of Elvis’ gal pal Dyanne. Last May, she starred in Porchlight Music Theatre’s run of Memphis, which like Million Dollar Quartet, is also inspired by actual events. Her other favorite roles include hit productions of The Color Purple, Dreamgirls and Seven Guitars along with credits on popular television shows like The Chi and Empire.

Director Daryl Brooks is making his debut at TATC. In 2018, he directed Memphis at Porchlight Music Theater and received a Jeff Award nomination. His playwright credits include Sammy: A Tribute to Sammy Davis, Jr. and Black Pearl: A Tribute to Josephine Baker, both in 2017, both of which he also directed at Black Ensemble Theater in Chicago as well as Men of Soul, which he also wrote and directed there in 2015.

Linda Fortunato is in her fourth season as TATC Artistic Director where her recent credits include directing and choreographing Miracle on 34th Street: The Musical, Ghost:The Musical and Steel Magnolias, as well as Cabaret and Big River. Linda Fortunato has been nominated for five Jeff Awards for her work as choreographer and director and received both Equity and Non-Equity Jeff Awards for Outstanding Choreography in 2013-14, receiving TATC’s first Jeff Award for choreography of 42nd Street.

The creative team for Million Dollar Quartet includes Scenic Designer Ann Davis, Lighting Designer Denise Karczewski, Sound Designer Barry G. Funderburg, Costume Designer Caitlin Dalton, Wig Designer Kevin Barthel and Properties Designer Emily Hartig. Stage Manager is Jessica Banaszak. William Underwood is Music Director. Linda Fortunato is teamed with TATC General Manager Richard Friedman and Ann Davis, TATC Head of Production.

Founded in 1991, the 410-seat TATC is a year-round professional theater at its home: The Center for Visual and Performing Arts, 1040 Ridge Road in Munster, Indiana. TATC is an accessible venue with plenty of free parking and is located off I-80/94, just 35 minutes from downtown Chicago.

Performances are 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays; 7:30 p.m. Fridays; 3 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; and 2:30 p.m. on Sundays. In addition to the regular run schedule, Theatre at the Center has added the following performances during the final seventh week of the run: Wednesday, March 27 at 2 p.m., Thursday March 28 at 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 29 at 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 30 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, March 31 at 2:30 and 7:00 p.m.

Individual ticket prices range from $42 - $46. To purchase individual tickets, call the Box Office at 219-836-3255 or at 800-511-1532. Group discounts are available for groups of 11 or more. Student tickets are $20 and gift certificates are also available. For more information on Theatre at the Center, visit

Actors Tommy Malouf, Zach Sorrow, Zachary Stevenson and Michael Kurowski. Photo by Brett Beiner.

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