Jerry Lee Lewis and friends jam in Asbury Park Theater Company’s ‘Million Dollar Quartet’

million dollar quartet asbury

DAVID ROSS LAWN

Garrett Forrestal plays Jerry Lee Lewis, with Remember Jones as Sam Phillips, in “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove.

Jerry Lee Lewis, who died in October at the age of 87, was, among other things, the last surviving member of the Million Dollar Quartet. He and Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash and Carl Perkins were called that after the four participated in an impromptu jam session at Sun Studio in Memphis on Dec. 4, 1956. A photo of them appeared in the newspaper, The Memphis Press-Scimitar, the next day, and that phrase was used in the caption.

The music from the session was bootlegged for many years before finally being officially released in 1990, and a jukebox musical inspired by the session, “Million Dollar Quartet,” premiered in 2006 and ran on Broadway in 2010 and 2011.

The Asbury Park Theater Company is currently producing “Million Dollar Quartet” at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove with Garrett Forrestal as Lewis, Sage Spiker as Presley, Nathan Burke as Perkins, Joey Walsh as Cash, Justin Bendel as Perkins’ bass-playing brother Jay, and Grace Allison as Presley’s girlfriend Dyanne, who attends the sessions and does some singing herself. Remember Jones plays Sun Studio owner Sam Phillips — a legendary rock ‘n’ roll figure in his own right — as well as serving as the play’s production director.

Jason Cohen and Jon Rossi — who played Lewis and the jam session’s drummer, respectively, on a national “Million Dollar Quartet” tour — co-direct.

DAVID ROSS LAWN

The cast of the Asbury Park Theater Company’s production of “Million Dollar Quartet.”

When I saw the musical at the Paper Mill Playhouse in 2017, Phillips seemed like its central figure and Lewis seemed like its central musical figure — a restlessly flamboyant performer, even in a jam session, who overshadows Presley (and blatantly flirts with Dyanne) even though, in December 1956, he had just recently been discovered by Phillips, and Presley was already a major star.

I wrote in my 2017 review: “The song list, though only occasionally reflecting what was actually played at Sun on Dec. 4, 1956, includes signature hits by all artists (‘Blue Suede Shoes,’ ‘Hound Dog,’ ‘I Walk the Line,’ ‘Great Balls of Fire’ etc.) while also covering tunes associated with other artists (Little Richard’s ‘Long Tall Sally’ and Chuck Berry’s ‘Brown-Eyed Handsome Man,’ for instance) and nodding to rock’s roots in gospel (‘Down by the Riverside,’ ‘I Shall Not Be Moved’), blues (‘My Babe’) and country (‘Sixteen Tons’).”

“Million Dollar Quartet” will be presented at the Palaia Theater at the Jersey Shore Arts Center in Ocean Grove, Dec. 2-3 and 9 at 8 p.m.; Dec. 4 at 5 p.m.; and Dec. 10 at 3 and 8 p.m. Visit asburyparktheatercompany.org.

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